Venezuela military to distribute medicine to hospitals

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A worker of a pharmacy opens an empty drawer in Caracas on May 30, 2016.Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Pharmacies in Venezuela have run out of key medicine

The Venezuelan Armed Forces are taking control of the distribution of medicine and medical equipment to public hospitals, Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino announced on Wednesday.

Gen Padrino said the measure was taken to avoid medicine "being re-routed".

Venezuela is mired in an economic crisis which has led to shortages of items ranging from basic goods to medical supplies.

Officials blame the shortages on an "economic war" being waged against it.

The opposition says the crisis was caused by government mismanagement.

Doctors have held a series of protests to draw attention to chronic shortages of key medicine and supplies.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Venezuelans do not just have to queue for basic goods but also for medical appointments

"We're going to take control of the distribution of all medical and surgical supplies managed in all hospitals," Gen Padrino said on state television.

He said the measure had been taken in order "to guarantee that these medicines and supplies get to the patient efficiently and neatly distributed and assigned".


The government says the shortages are caused by unethical business people who hoard goods to sell them at inflated prices on the black market.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Doctors have held rallies to draw attention to the shortages. This woman says that "Venezuela is my emergency patient".

But the opposition says they are the government's fault for not putting money aside when prices for Venezuela's main export, oil, were high.

With government coffers depleted and triple-digit inflation wiping out the purchasing power of the local currency, public hospitals are struggling to care for patients.

According to the Venezuelan Medical Federation, some public hospitals are having to make do on only 4% of the supplies they would expect to have.

Gen Padrino said the government was "preparing a more in-depth plan" to ensure hospitals were functioning well.

However, disaffection with the government remains widespread.

In a recent poll, more than 75% of Venezuelans said they were unhappy with President Nicolas Maduro's leadership.

While an opposition march to the presidential palace planned for Thursday has been called off, smaller protests by student groups are expected to go ahead.

The economic crisis has further deepened divisions between the government and its supporters and those who want to see Mr Maduro ousted from office.

The two sides have agreed to meet for talks mediated by the Vatican on 11 November but tension remains high as factions within the opposition have refused to join in the talks.