Caracas (VZA) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has requested international assistance from the United Nations (UN) and, in particular, the UN Development Program (UNDP), to “break” the US-led economic blockade against the country and help supply vital medical equipment.
His call came at a gathering of health sector leaders and activists from the Humanised Childbirth Program in Caracas Tuesday.
“I ask for support from the UNDP, from the UN system, because as you know the imperialist government of the United States is persecuting and blockading us. If I want to buy some essential equipment somewhere in the world to protect our pregnant women, the US government persecutes us and impedes or delays [the purchase],” he stated. “We have a lot of work to do,” he continued.
His statements come amidst a polarising debate concerning international intervention in Venezuela. Opposition forces, as well as regional right-wing governments, have been pushing international organisms to declare a humanitarian crisis in the country as justification for a direct foreign intervention.
For his part, the Maduro government has been open to international cooperation, previously requesting UN medical help, as well as for programs which facilitate the voluntary return of migrants. Caracas has also hosted international programs involving foreign specialists, often including Cuban doctors, Russian economists, or Chinese spacial or telecommunications technicians.
The economic blockade against Venezuela includes US financial sanctions, Swiss, EU, Canadian and Panamanian bank account freezes, trade embargos, unilateral measures against international trade payments, and persecution of foreign firms which trade with Venezuela.
Independent estimates report US $6 billion of lost oil revenue as a result of sanctions, whilst government sources have denounced the freezing of payments of imported medical supplies such as anti-malaria or HIV treatments. The vast majority of Venezuela’s medical supplies and equipment are imported, and thus vulnerable to blockading policies by foreign agents.
Humanised Childbirth Program to be expanded
Despite the difficulties caused by the blockade, the government continues to attempt to expand social welfare in Venezuela, announcing Tuesday that the number of local attention centers of the Humanised Childbirth Program is due to be amplified from 124 to 1,000 within six months. The number of professional program ‘promoters’ will also grow from 10,000 to 30,000 in the same time period.
The program, launched in July 2017, looks to promote natural gestational and birthing practices as well as provide sexual education and support to, especially young women. It emerged as a result of an increasing trend in Venezuelan hospitals of doctors forcing pregnant women to undergo cesarean sections, both as a means of generating profits in the private clinics, as well as to avoid the extra workload which could be generated by birthing complications.
At the Caracas gathering, President Maduro indicated that the Humanised Childbirth Program is also to be upgraded to ‘social mission’ status.
Venezuela’s social missions are government-run welfare programs. It is expected that they will be given constitutional status in the new Magna Carta currently being drafted by the Constituent Assembly.
Independent report on women’s rights
The announcements coincided with the publishing of a comprehensive and independent report on female rights in Venezuela, including access to healthcare and sexual and reproductive rights, by the Entrompe de Falopio (Fallopian Tubing) collective.
The report, which indicates that women have suffered disproportionately from the current economic situation, describes the Humanised Childbirth Program as “very valuable.”
It also informs that 20 percent of Venezuelan women under 20 have gone through a pregnancy, as well as 62 percent of women under 25.
Cuban medical mission enlarged
A day after Maduro requested international assistance from the UNDP, support also arrived from Venezuela’s anti-imperialist ally, Cuba, who sent 500 more specialist doctors to the country, Havana based media outlet Granma reports. This latest installment brings the total number of Cuban doctors based in Venezuela to 21,700.
The doctors, who arrived in planes from the respective Cuban and Venezuelan state airlines, will strengthen both the leadership and base work of the Cuban mission in the country and comes as part of the health plan approved by Maduro in the recent congress of health workers.
“As always, Cuba will strengthen the work of its brigade with an eye to building a health system envisaged by the commanders of our revolutions [Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez]. Public healthcare is a priority and a bastion of the Bolivarian Revolution and we will defend it side by side with this people,” stated Dr Fernando Gonzalez, head of the Cuban healthcare mission in Venezuela.
The new doctors will, he stated, focus on health promotion and illness prevention and will be spread across the country.
Cuba has played a leading role in the development of Venezuelan public healthcare during the Bolivarian Revolution. Both the ‘Barrio Adentro’ mission, which seeks to bring healthcare to poor and remote communities, as well as the Jose Gregorio Hernandez mission, which designs prosthetic limbs for disabled people, include a large Cuban contingent of doctors who help plan and run the mission.
This post was written by Paul Dobson and was originally published by Venezuelanalysis.