People line up to buy hygienic products inside a Farmatodo drugstore in Caracas on February 3, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

Human Rights Watch is very concerned about the lack of access to essential medicines and medical supplies in Venezuela, both in the private and public healthcare systems. The government of Venezuela is failing to fulfill its core international obligation to ensure that basic medicines and medical supplies are available and accessible to all without discrimination, putting the lives and health of tens of thousands of Venezuelans at risk.

On recent visits to Venezuela, Human Rights Watch found shortages of medications to treat pain, asthma, hypertension, diabetes and heart diseases, among others. Syringes, gauze, and needles were in short supply. A network of medical residents working in public hospitals all over the country reported that 44 percent of operating rooms were not operational and 94 percent of labs did not have the materials they needed to operate properly. They also found that 60 percent of routinely stocked medicines or medical supplies were entirely or partially unavailable in the hospitals, and that a majority of medicines included in the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines were not available in pharmacies.

Human Rights Watch submits that this situation is attributable to the failure of the government to directly supply the public healthcare system as well as government policies that have impeded the acquisition and accessibility of medicines and supplies. Venezuela does not have a strong pharmaceutical industry, so the country has to import most medications and medical supplies. Even for medications that are made locally, the raw materials often come from abroad.

The government procures some medicines and supplies directly from other countries through bilateral agreements, but repeated mistakes have been identified in the government handling of these procurements that have contributed to the acute shortage of supplies. For most medications and medical supplies, Venezuela depends on commercial pharmaceutical suppliers. But currency exchange rules and price controls that the government has imposed interfere with the process, resulting in a grossly inadequate supply of essential medications and medical supplies.

Human Rights Watch respectfully urges the Committee to call on the government of Venezuela to immediately ensure that essential medicines and supplies are available and accessible to all Venezuelans in order to fulfill its commitments under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.