Health care in Venezuela

by moveforward on November 17, 2010

Up until the last couple of years there is no doubt that health care in Venezuela was seen by many as one of the leaders in the Americas region. Significant money had been invested in the public and private healthcare sector and the country was, and to a certain extent still does, attracting some of the best names in private healthcare around the world. However there have been and continue to be growing concerns regarding the future of health care in Venezuela with a number of accusations regarding private healthcare, health insurance and the activities of the Venezuelan government.

Venezuela is to all intents and purposes a country which is potentially moving backwards in relation to health care and the ability of the government to administer this to each and every member of the population. This is a very different picture to that painted less than a decade ago with Venezuelan seen by many as the leading country in South America and the one which would lead the way in the future. So what can you expect, what has gone wrong and what does the future hold for health care in Venezuela?

General health care in Venezuela

There have been number of issues with regards to health care in Venezuela over the last 20 years and while great progress was made in the 1980s this has to some extent been negated by the current government. The country was seen by many as a leader, offering extensive inoculation programs, low cost and no cost healthcare to the Venezuelan population and the country itself had one of the most comprehensive healthcare infrastructures in the world. However, there has been a major deterioration in the standard of health care available in Venezuela since the 1980s and there are serious concerns for the future.

A number of prominent healthcare agencies around the world have expressed concern amid allegations that some of the figures passed to the likes of the United Nations may not offer a true insight into the real picture in Venezuela. As a consequence, those who are looking to move to Venezuela, whether for work or to relocate, there is a need to make yourself aware of the current situation, the cost of health care, standards of health care available and potential medical conditions prevalent in Venezuela.

Public health care in Venezuela

The 1980s saw a massive investment by the Venezuelan government into low cost and no cost healthcare which became something of a benchmark for surrounding countries. This massive investment into the healthcare system has gradually deteriorated and as of 2002 around 4.1% of gross domestic product was reinvested into the healthcare system by the authorities. Total expenditure per capita is down and it looks as though the 2011 healthcare budget in Venezuela will fall in real terms by 1%.

Those who have visited Venezuela with regards to health care in the country have come back with stories of public sector and private sector hospitals side-by-side whereby the public buildings are literally crumbling while the private sector buildings continue to flourish. Despite the fact that the public sector health service was by far and away the leader in the country back in 1980s it is the private health sector which is now more prominent. There is still free medical care available to the masses in Venezuela although unfortunately there have been concerns expressed about the standard of health care available and indeed the potential for yet more deterioration in the short to medium term.

Private health care in Venezuela

Private healthcare in Venezuela continues to flourish as concerns about the public sector continue to grow and more and more people are pushed towards their own private health insurance. The authorities are looking to reduce the health budget burden on the overall budget and the more people they can persuade to move towards private healthcare the better. It was reported that between 2006 and 2008 over 2000 doctors left the public health sector because of concerns over investment and the standard of services available. This perfectly illustrates the massive chasm between the public sector and private sector health services in Venezuela and the problems which are all too visible to those in the region.

National health policies and plans

As you would expect, amid allegations of a deterioration in the Venezuelan National Health Service, the Venezuelan government has come under significant pressure from overseas parties. Even though the investment figures from the government into the public sector health service speak for themselves the authorities have been very keen to pass some of the blame over to the private health care sector amid accusations that some companies are putting profit before services.

More and more people are now advising taking the private health care route because of the uncertainty with regards to the National Health Service in Venezuela and the ability of the authorities to offer an acceptable service going forward. The worldwide economic downturn has placed yet more pressure on countries such as Venezuela and the government has been forced to effectively reduce healthcare spending in 2011 by 1% in real terms. The recent deterioration in the quality of hospitals, services and the availability of medicines is likely to continue if the authorities are unable to increase investment in this particular area.

However, it may seem rather bizarre to find that life expectancy in Venezuela has increased dramatically from 40 years of age in the 1940s to 74 years of age in 2009 which compares favourably to life expectancy figures of 72 years of age for Brazil. Whether or not the improvement in life expectancy is effectively down to the private healthcare sector or the public healthcare sector is a matter for debate but you have to ask yourself how much better life expectancy and standards of living in Venezuela would be if the authorities had maintained their earlier levels of investment?

Expats in Venezuela

If you’re looking to move to Venezuela for employment or to relocate in the longer term you need to make yourself fully aware of the health care system in Venezuela, both the private and public sectors. There is concern that many of the figures released by the government are “incorrect” as well as concerns for the future in relation to healthcare spending by the authorities. Against this background it would seem sensible for expats, who can afford it, to look towards private healthcare which continues to grow in popularity in the country.

Healthcare benefits available to expats

Amid all the doom and gloom of reduced investment in the Venezuelan healthcare system we must also remember that free medical treatment is available to all people in the country. Despite the fact that the Venezuelan authorities have in the past been accused of “picking and choosing” who receives vaccinations, in reality should you require emergency treatment there will be a facility available although what standard of treatment you may receive is open to debate.

Against this background we must also remember that there have been great strides made in the private healthcare sector in Venezuela and the vast majority of people moving to the country are looking towards this particular avenue. The authorities are also looking to push more and more people towards private healthcare insurance as a means of reducing the cost of maintaining and improving health services in the country and also as a means of allowing the authorities to focus upon those who “really need their help”.

Medical conditions prevalent in Venezuela

Even though life expectancy in Venezuela has increased dramatically over the last 70 years or so and there have been great strides made towards the treatment of various conditions there are concerns that a reduction in government investment in the sector will cause problems in the future. Medical conditions such as dengue fever, malaria, measles and tuberculosis have all reappeared over recent months, with concerns that this could be because of reduced investment by the government. Even though there has been a major improvement in sanitation across Venezuela a number of water-based medical conditions still continue to appear on a regular basis and there are also issues with regards to HIV/AIDS.

It is quite disappointing to see that a country which made so much progress during the 1980s and 1990s is effectively beginning to fall back in relation to health care standards and indeed it will be the lower end of the income spectrum who suffer most. Whether or not the private health insurance market is putting profit before treatment is a matter for debate but putting more conflict and friction between the government and private healthcare companies will cause more problems in the future.

The future of healthcare in Venezuela

As we touched on above, Venezuelan was seen by many people as a prime example of how to invest into the health of a nation during the 1980s and the 1990s. Even now the country still ranks relatively well with regards to rates of mortality and healthcare treatment although there is growing concern regarding the major gap between private and public health services and health facilities. What were once top of the range and very modern hospitals are now but a shadow of their former selves as a reduction in investment by the government continues to have a major impact.

Like so many other countries around the world the push towards private healthcare insurance, for those of can afford it, continues and Venezuela is no different. It is highly likely that the authorities will continue to champion the benefits of private healthcare, despite their ongoing dispute with a number of healthcare companies, as this will ultimately increase government spending per qualifying capita. It is also likely that more and more people will not qualify for free healthcare treatment in the future if the authorities continue to feel the squeeze and reduce investment going forward.

As a consequence, expats looking to move to Venezuela whether for work or to relocate should look towards the private healthcare market to ensure they get the best medical treatment available in the country. Even though Venezuela continues to attract more than its fair share of private healthcare companies it is the growing gap between the public and private sector which is a major concern going forward. In theory free medical treatment is available to all in the country but the standard and timing of such treatment will vary from place to place and time to time.

Conclusion

In many ways Venezuela is going in the opposite direction to many countries in Central America and South America, who are now increasing their investment in health care as a means of protecting the population. The Venezuelan authorities were slightly ahead of the game after investing significant funds in the 1980s and 1990s which effectively brought the Venezuelan health care market into the top tier of medical treatment. However, over recent times we have seen a reduction in real investment in the sector and once modern day hospitals are now in need of repair and former cutting-edge equipment has now been superseded but not replaced.

If you’re looking to move to Venezuela it is essential that you make yourself fully aware of not only the possible medical conditions prevalent in the country but also the standard and variation of public and private sector medical treatment. Many companies will operate their own corporate medical care program and again this should be one of the first questions which you ask if looking to move overseas. If you’re moving to relocate and begin a life yourself in a new country then again you should be looking towards the private health insurance market as a means of protecting yourself going forward.

It is sad to see that the Venezuelan healthcare system is effectively going backwards due to underinvestment in recent years. What was once one of the leading healthcare countries in the world is now struggling to keep pace with competitors who were many light-years behind it only a short time ago. Whether the authorities, with the assistance of overseas experts, can reverse this downtrend remains to be seen but it would be unfortunate if all of the good work in the 1980s and 1990s were lost purely and simply because of a decade of underinvestment.

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