Venezuela crisis: Caracas hospital shows sorry state of health system

"This is like a medical facility in a war zone," says Huniades Urbina-Medina, describing the Jose Manuel de Los Rios children's hospital in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

"This used to be the best hospital, not just in the country, but in all of Latin America. We used to welcome patients from all over the region. And look at it now."

As he walks through the building, Dr Urbina-Medina points to the peeling paintwork, the exposed pipes and electricity cables.

"This isn't what a hospital should be, he says, it looks more like a building site."

Venezuela's economic crisis has hit the country hard and the health care system is crumbling.

As politicians argue over the rights and wrongs of recalling President Nicolas Maduro, doctors and nurses are struggling to cope.

"We don't have enough drugs to treat the sick," explains Dr Urbina-Medina as he points to the empty shelves in the hospital pharmacy.

"Five years ago, we had an average of 200 patients waiting to be operated on. At the last count, there were more than 5,500 names on the waiting list. We have nine operating rooms, but, today, only four are fully functional."

In one of the few wards that can can still be used, a young child lies listless on the bed, his mother by his side. He is called Alejandro and is 11 years old, but he looks half that age.

He has meningitis. His oversized skull bears witness to the tell-tale signs of hydrocephaly. His eyes are gaunt, he is painfully thin.

His body cannot fight the disease. It is weakened by malnutrition. Alejandro has been here for 12 days. His mother does not know how long his ordeal will last, his agony prolonged by the shortages of medicine.

But doctors are doing all they can to keep him comfortable.

Nutrition emergency

"Venezuela has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the world," says Maritza Landaeta of the Fundacion Bengoa, an NGO which works in poor communities affected by malnutrition.

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