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Venezuela: Health Emergency Operational Update Report n° 3 (MDRVE004)

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Situation Report
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January 2019: IFRC allocated its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the Venezuelan Red Cross.

March 2019: The IFRC President visited Venezuela, marking a crucial step for the National Society and IFRC’s humanitarian diplomacy in the country.

April 2019: IFRC launches the Emergency Appeal Venezuela: Health Emergency for 50 million Swiss francs to reach 650,000 people.

August 2019: Operation update no. 1 published.

October 2019: Six-month update published.

March 2020: First COVID-19 cases reported by the Venezuelan Government

May 2020: 12 month report, revision and extension of the Appeal end date until July 2021

A. SITUATION ANALYSIS

Description of the context

Venezuela continues to face a critical situation due to the humanitarian needs that have arisen in recent years. The impact of COVID-19 has increased concern about the population’s access to essential health services.

COVID-19 has also had an impact on the network of hospitals of the Venezuelan Red Cross (VRC). As part of the health system and service delivery, the 8 hospitals and 33 outpatient clinics of the VRC continue to contribute to responding to the country's health needs. These centres now focus their activities exclusively on emergency care, the referral of suspected COVID-19 cases and obstetric and gynecology consultations.

Derived from the restrictions imposed by the national quarantine since 13 March 2020, which have been extended on a monthly basis, the country carries out its activities under a “7x7” modality; this consists of 7 days of quarantine flexibility, where various economic sectors can work normally in a restricted timeframe (following the corresponding sanitary measures), followed by 7 days of rigorous quarantine, which consists of activating only essential sectors while the rest of the population remains confined. All VRC-IFRC field activities have been reduced to essential actions to guarantee the health and safety of the volunteers and staff of the organization, as well as the proper supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The implementation of health days, in which the VRC provides assistance in different settings outside the hospital facilities and clinics, has been suspended.

Health information is provided digitally and a small number of home visits are made. The network of VRC hospitals and outpatient clinics remain operational. With the support of the IFRC psychosocial (PSS) delegate, the VRC is implementing actions to contribute to the well-being of the members of the National Society; PSS is provided through phone calls to the most affected volunteers, as well as group debriefing sessions, attention to the families of volunteers who are positive for COVID-19, and other types of access to psychosocial services if necessary.

As indicated in the previous operations update, the outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as diphtheria, measles, and malaria, as well as an increase in the incidence of malaria, tuberculosis, and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Venezuela, are still latent in the country.

Power outages have increased throughout the country in recent months, which have had an impact on other services, such as water quality, health, and education, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable population. According to the January 2020 report of the World Food Programme (WFP), approximately 25 per cent of the population does not have access to clean and safe water, increasing the incidence of vector-borne diseases. This situation is linked to delays or suspension of garbage collection and/or lack of personnel to maintain the already deteriorated water and sanitation infrastructure.

The minimum monthly wage for the current period is 800,000 Bolivares (equivalent to approximately 1.80 US dollars). In addition, the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) reports that accumulated inflation in the first nine months of 2020 was 844.1 per cent; and the national consumer price index continues to rise, which limits the purchasing power of the most vulnerable. Despite efforts to establish a new price control for food products, local inflation of the US dollar has contributed to food insecurity (Consumer Price Index Phase 4). According to the WFP assessment of the state of Food Security in Venezuela, carried out in the second half of 2019, it is estimated that 7.9 per cent of the population (2.3M) is in food security and 24.4 per cent (7M) in moderate food insecurity.

In addition to this, the country faces a critical fuel shortage. The service stations supply only official cars of essential sectors (health, fire, security, etc.), and people with safe conduct, but with limitations in the quantity and frequency of supply, which limits operations. At the time of this report, more than half of the pumps managed a subsidized price at the national level have changed to an international payment method. This situation has also represented failures in the distribution of domestic gas in several states nationwide, which has generated, among other things, that a greater number of people have to resort to biomass and firewood for cooking, despite the risk of related respiratory diseases.

The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS) registered 1,193 protests in September 2020 alone, which is equivalent to an average of 40 daily protests. As of October 2020, a total of 4,298 protests for basic services, 1,490 protests for gasoline and 7,004 related to other particular situations are reported at the national level. A complex landscape is projected in terms of social conflict, due to the fact that parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held on 6 December 2020, a situation that usually causes tensions due to the highly polarized political context in the country.

In terms of migration, by January 2020, more than 4.8 million people had left Venezuela for other countries by air, land or sea; approximately 4 million Venezuelans were hosted in Latin American and Caribbean countries. This is the largest migratory flow from a single country in the region in recent history. From mid-March to October 2020, it is estimated that more than 120,000 people had returned to Venezuela, the majority through the state of Táchira. The State’s Comprehensive Social Care Points (PASI for its Spanish acronym), established in the border states, continue to provide services so that the returnees comply with a quarantine period of at least two weeks, before being transferred to their destination states. During the last days of September, changes were made to the entry protocols in Apure so people who now have a negative rapid test must comply with a 10 to 14 day-quarantine without the need to wait for a negative PCR test to leave. Although the borders of neighboring countries are still closed, the migratory flow of people from Venezuela to Colombia and Brazil is regaining strength through alternative routes, such as unregulated and informal trails, in view of the economic reactivation by the relaxation of quarantine measures in neighboring countries.

The rains have caused the overflow of some rivers and the flooding of some communities in the states of Aragua, Portuguesa, Bolívar, among others. Coherent with the forecast by the Global Climate Center, the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (INAMEH) has issued an alert on the consolidation of the "La Niña” phenomenon for 2020. According to their report, the forecast of the event will be moderate with a 75 per cent probability that it will continue until December.

As mentioned in the previous operations update, this emergency appeal operation has been extended until 27 July 2021, which will allow the continuation of the planned actions. The VRC carries out this work by fulfilling its mandate and ensuring that all actors understand the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross Movement, particularly the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. The IFRC will continue to mobilize financial support for the purchase and distribution of medicines and medical supplies to ensure the availability of services at the primary and specialized levels.