Eduardo Franco has lost count of the number of funerals he’s been to this year. The last one was just a month ago in his home state of Carabobo in Venezuela. His friend Roberto, 25, died after succumbing to the effects of HIV.
Roberto was bisexual and contracted HIV after having unprotected sex with a man. He is one casualty out of thousands of HIV/AIDS patients in Venezuela who are dying every year because of a major shortage of antiretroviral HIV medications that can help treat and slow down the virus and fight infection.
Since 2015, there have been sporadic shortages of these vital medicines all over Venezuela. But deliveries that were slow to arrive two years ago have now ground to a halt. Public hospitals have given up testing for HIV, and condom supplies have run out. Venezuela’s health system appears to be on the brink of collapse.
"Over the past week in Carabobo there’s no medicines arriving at all. If you have cancer or are recovering from an operation or have an infection you can’t get any antibiotics. There’s empty shelves in every clinic and pharmacy," Franco, who serves as a spokesperson for the HIV/AIDS foundation MAVID in Carabobo, explained.
There are 8,500 people with HIV in the coastal state of Carabobo in northern Venezuela, according to MAVID. In 2012, there were 2,100 HIV-related deaths nationwide in Venezuela. So far this year, at least 1,600 patients have died in Carababo alone, a state that accounts for around 7 percent of the total population.
Protesters and health advocates blame Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose administration has refused offers of international aid and denies there’s a crisis.
"Last year, we asked them to open a humanitarian corridor to allow essential medicines and basic food supplies through, but they refused, so we hold them responsible," Gutierrez added. With no immediate help likely to come from the state, advocates are pleading with the international community to deliver aid. They’ve warned the lives of tens of thousands are at risk due to illness and starvation.