Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela health minister fired over mortality stats

A woman demanding drugs for children with cancer at a health protest in Caracas Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A demonstrator demanding drugs for children with cancer at a health protest in Caracas

Venezuela has sacked Health Minister Antonieta Caporale after her department released statistics revealing a large jump in infant and maternal mortality.

Vice-Minister of Hospitals Luis López has been appointed to take over, according to state media.

The ministry's report showed the number of women dying in childbirth had risen by 65%, while child deaths were up 30%.

The national figures were released after almost two years without official data.

They also showed a jump in illnesses such as malaria and diphtheria.

The report reflects the country's deep economic crisis, which the opposition says is the result of government mismanagement.

President Nicolas Maduro argues that the health crisis is caused by medicines being hoarded to encourage a coup against him.

Venezuelans face shortages of everything, from food to vaccines, and this has provoked big protests in the country.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Maduro said some demonstrators have been arrested for damaging La Carlota air base in east Caracas on Wednesday

NGOs and international bodies have also expressed concern that the country is detaining citizens and processing their cases behind closed doors, via the military.

The government has kept quiet on the issue, but, on Thursday, President Maduro said protesters who attack military bases would face military proceedings.

"The right and basic guarantees of due process no longer exist in Venezuela from the moment a civilian is forced to appear before a military court," said Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organisation of American States (OAS), on Monday.

Venezuela announced its withdrawal from the OAS last month, accusing the US-based group of meddling in its affairs.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world but the collapse of oil prices a few years ago led to a recession and a shortage of the foreign currency needed to import equipment, food and medicines.

Almost 40 people have died in protest-related violence since the demonstrations began last month.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A protest banner declares the health sector dead

The country's opposition has arranged a grandparent's protest on Friday, which will see elderly Venezuelans marching to the office of the people's ombudsman in Caracas.

Participants say their state benefits do not cover food and medicine. They also say they are demonstrating for their grandchildren and the younger generation at large.

In a recent survey, three-quarters of Venezuelans said their health had plummeted, and that they were eating fewer than two meals a day. Many reported losing an average of about 9kg (19lb).

In the health sector, large numbers of doctors have emigrated. A leading pharmaceutical association has said about 85% of medicines are in short supply.

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