- daniel brown
- BBC World, Caracas
The information released Thursday that eight people appeared in a matter of 72 hours for a «mysterious illness» at the Central Hospital of Maracay (HCM), in the center of the country, triggered a wave of interpretations that has Venezuelans arguing ever since. .
On Sunday two similar people appeared in conditions to the previous ones, according to information from their relatives and doctors; one in the same hospital in the capital of the state of Aragua and the other in the Luis Razetti Clinic in Caracas.
The government has not ruled on these last two deaths, but regarding the previous ones it denied the existence of «a mysterious disease» and described the information as a «media campaign against Venezuela.»
The governor of Aragua state, Tareck al Aissami, and the Minister of Communications, Delcy Rodríguez, refer to the versions as a «defamatory» strategy to «distress the population.»
«The case has become increasingly complex,» Julio Castro, a professor of medicine at the Central University of Venezuela and one of the most prestigious infectologists in the country, tells BBC Mundo.
«But complex not medically, but politically, which prevents a neutral interpretation of what is happening,» he says.
The chronology of events
On Thursday, the president of the College of Physicians of Aragua, Ángel Sarmiento, reported the death of the eight people in the HCM.
«It is a virus that we do not know and presents similar symptoms in all cases: fever, joint pain, spots on the skin and bleeding,» he told BBC Mundo on September 11.
Sarmiento warned that the similarity in the symptoms and the speed of their deaths was all he could report: «The laboratories should carry out the corresponding tests and we must wait before panicking.»
Immediately, the government Health Corporation of Aragua said that in reality there had been two deaths instead of eight.
And concession that the Hospital tests were sent to the National Institute of Hygiene and Consalud, in Caracas, which depends on the government.
Later, leaders related to the government such as Rodríguez and El Aissami described the information as an «echo of lies that are intended to anguish the population.»
They warned that social media users were sharing fake photos to create panic.
And they asked the Prosecutor’s Office to open an investigation into Dr. Sarmiento.
The officials confirmed the number of eight deaths, although according to them they occurred due to common causes: peritonitis, enterocolitis, pneumonia, cancer and diabetes, among others.
Since then, and added to the deaths on Sunday, the heated discussion has not stopped on social networks and the Venezuelan media.
In statements to the local press this Monday, Aragua’s health secretary, Luis López, assured that the deaths over the weekend were not due to any unknown virus.
«How are we going to admit that something is happening that is not happening. There is no emergency, Ebola, collective deaths, a bacterium that causes death, there is no case with meningococcemia (…) If something were happening, we would be the first to alert it, » verified López in an interview in Union Radio.
Dr. Julio Castro, who has been in contact with the HCM doctors, reiterates that «there is a certain common pattern in the clinical picture: hemorrhagic fever, joint pain, and heart failure.»
Although the medical records of the first eight deaths in Maracay are protected by the hospital management, which is public, Castro indicates that «the patients have gone from mild to moderate illness and from severe to dying in five days.»
«And there is a clinical suspicion that what is there is chikungunya,» a virus of African origin transmitted by the bite of a mosquito that has been on the rise in the Caribbean in recent months.
Aragua is one of the states most affected by vector diseases, according to the epidemiological bulletin of the Ministry of Health.
The World Health Organization says that in countries like Venezuela where the virus has reached, 90% of people with fever, joint pain and rashes have chikungunya.
Chikungunya and the health crisis in Venezuela
The health sector in Venezuela is currently experiencing one of its worst crises in years: the shortage of medicines and medical supplies has led institutions such as the Venezuelan Association of Clinics and Hospitals and the Medical Federation to ask the government to declare a health emergency.
The government, although it has admitted the lack of medicines and the difficulties hospitals are experiencing, says that declaring a hospital emergency would be «disproportionate.»
Castro, however, believes that «this issue of Maracay, which he believes will begin to be seen in other parts of the country, is related to the situation in the country.»
«This may not be a rare virus, but rather an expression of the management that has been given to health in Venezuela,» says Castro, referring to what he considers a non-transparent management of information about the disease.
And he gives the example of Colombia, a tropical country where the Ministry of Health found 3,000 cases of chikungunya and estimates that it will reach 80,000.
Since the first case was detected in Venezuela, official entities have counted 243 cases of this disease, which arrived last year on the American continent.
«In Colombia there is no evasion of the facts,» says Castro. «But here they try to hide something indisputable, which is that the vector reached the country like all the countries of the Caribbean and the tropics.»