CARACAS, Venezuela — With friends and family stuck indoors and buses rarely running, Onasis Muñoz missed several lifesaving dialysis sessions for his failing kidneys. When his blood pressure started to dangerously spike, he had one option left: a 20-minute hike to the nearest clinic.
Venezuela’s acute fuel shortages are leaving medical professionals stuck in gas lines or struggling to reach their place of work just as the coronavirus outbreak threatens to overwhelm the crisis-stricken country’s battered health system.
“There were no medicines [before], and now no gasoline,” said Muñoz, 28, who lives in Venezuela’s coastal Carabobo state, two hours from the capital. When drugs were scarce last year, he said, he went eight months without medication. Now he can source his medicines, but the gasoline shortage has made his dialysis sessions, at a hospital 17 miles from his home, nearly impossible to reach.
“What hope do I have?” he asked.
The OPEC nation with the world’s largest oil reserves has for weeks been unable to supply gasoline to service stations due to the collapse of its refineries combined with US sanctions that have left President Nicolas Maduro’s government unable to import fuel.
The fuel shortages are already crippling food production and delivery and now they threaten to limit the functioning of health services, potentially worsening the pandemic’s impact on a country already suffering from malnutrition due to the economic crisis.
The coronavirus, meanwhile, is presenting Venezuela’s already crippled health-care system with a critical test, one that local doctors say it is uniquely unprepared to pass. Sensing his vulnerability, Maduro’s adversaries in the Trump administration are ratcheting up efforts to oust him. The Justice Department indicted Maduro and his senior officials last month on narcoterrorism charges, and the Pentagon has dispatched warships to the Caribbean to shut down the cocaine corridor that Washington says helps keep Maduro a float.
Maduro’s domestic political nemesis — Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly president recognized by the United States and more than 50 other nations as Venezuela’s rightful leader — has faded into the background during the outbreak, unable to hold mass rallies and dealing with a growing revolt within his own coalition. But Guaidó’s weakness does not mean Maduro is strong.