The lack of awareness of Venezuela’s deteriorating public health care system caused by Venezuela’s socioeconomic crisis is unprecedented. With the sharp decline of vaccination rates, the country is currently seeing colossal outbreaks of preventable diseases resurface once again, highlighting the importance of herd immunity. If these problems are not addressed soon, the rest of the world might just end up sharing the aftermath of Venezuela’s health crisis.
For almost a decade, the world has watched Venezuela’s crippling economy and disreputable political state bring a country and its people down to their knees. Triggered by declining oil prices, government overspending and corruption, Venezuela’s problems are believed to have risen after electing a socialist government whom they believed would even the playing field and make basic goods more affordable for the poor. Painfully, this notion has massively backfired. Venezuela’s crisis has caused the annual inflation rate to increase to a whopping 45,000%. The country’s capital city Caracas has had close to 4,000 murders in 2017 alone, currently making it the city with the 2nd highest murder rate in the world right after Honduras. By the end of last year, prices of consumer goods were doubling every 19 days on average, leaving Venezuelans struggling to put bread on the table.
While these struggles have been repeatedly stated by the media, there has been, however, a lack of awareness on the deterioration of Venezuela’s public health care system (1). More importantly, the possibility that Venezuela’s health crisis could have global repercussions has simply been neglected. With a steep decline in vaccination rates rendering herd immunity nearly non-existent, the country is seeing colossal outbreaks of measles, diphtheria and malaria resurface once again (1). Therefore, action to halt the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases within Venezuela is a matter of urgency for the country and the region. The absence of essential medicines, medical supplies, epidemiologic surveillance and immunization programs have been a perfect recipe for a national disaster waiting to happen – except, it’s already happening. As a consequence, an estimated four million people have already fled to live in nearby countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and neighboring Caribbean islands in search of a better life. Here, it must be highlighted that the alarming decline of herd immunity amongst migrants has already put neighboring countries like Colombia and Brazil at risk (1).
The importance of herd immunity has previously been discussed in ‘The rise of the 21st century anti-vaxxer epidemic’ to maintain vaccine efficacy. Herd immunity can only arise when the majority of the population has been protected against microbes through vaccinations. Simply put, the more people are vaccinated, the stronger the herd immunity will be. In essence, herd immunity works by making it difficult for a disease to spread because there are increasingly fewer susceptible people left to infect. This approach is especially crucial when it comes to protecting people who cannot be vaccinated, like the very young, the very old, and individuals who have challenged immune systems, for example those who suffer from AIDS, and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The concept of herd immunity is quite a simple one: once enough people are protected, it helps protect vulnerable members of their communities by reducing the spread of the disease. Quite frankly, nothing screams team work like herd immunity does.
Essentially, herd immunity is a larger problem than most of us realize. If the plethora of problems caused by Venezuela’s health crisis are not addressed soon, the rest of the world might just end up seeing vaccine-preventable diseases resurface once again. Neighboring countries such as Colombia have already started to implement free immunization schemes for Venezuelan migrants, but the efforts also need to start coming from other countries around the world. By being able to foresee where migrants may be relocating, we could understand which areas need the most medical attention. Such models to track migrants have already been established to prevent the spread of disease (1), but there is no doubt that more needs to be done.
To help alleviate Venezuela’s health crisis, we must first address the lack of awareness. Fundamentally, educational programs and immunization interventions must be set in place to inform individuals of Venezuela and neighboring countries of the importance of vaccines and herd immunity. Countries with more economic resources across the globe must join forces and increase their humanitarian efforts to help the people of Venezuela with their shortages of food and medical supplies; the smaller nearby ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao) are already receiving more asylum seekers than they can handle and are urging other countries to help out with the financial burdens. Additionally, international agencies should not only provide epidemiological surveillance for Venezuelans and those across the border, but also provide financial and medical support to neighboring countries who now have the increased exposure to these diseases that are unintentionally being introduced by Venezuelan migrants.
The people of Venezuela have been a victim of a crippling political system that is increasingly exposing them to dangerous diseases (1). Ultimately, the problems triggered by Venezuela’s alarming decline in herd immunity and vaccination rates need to be addressed soon before more damage is done to the people of Venezuela and its neighboring countries. For the past century, herd immunity has been the epitome of ‘togetherness’. Now more than ever, it’s time to work together to realize a healthier world we can all live in.
1. Tuite, A.R. et al. “Infectious disease implications of large-scale migration of Venezuelan nationals”, J Travel Med, 2018.