Venezuela is among the poorest economies in the region, with almost 80% of its citizens living in extreme poverty. For multilateral organizations, however, the suffocated Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro is an upper-middle-income nation, since it has not updated its macroeconomic figures since 2014, when it reported per capita income of $ 13,080. For this reason, the country joined the Covax mechanism, an initiative led by the World Health Organization, United Nations and the Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI) to guarantee access to anticovid vaccines to developing countries, under the figure of self-financing and not subsidies, as low-income countries do. The result is that you have to pay for the vaccines and they do not arrive.
The distribution of the countries between the two access routes to Covax (self-financed or subsidized through donations from the richest countries) is based on the data on gross per capita income that the World Bank managed for 2019. Venezuela, with the figures from 2014, it is listed as a high-income country, so it is left out of the list of 92 countries that can receive immunizations for free, such as Haiti, Honduras or El Salvador. The oil nation has contracted its GDP to less than a third in the last seven years, oil production is at its lowest and citizens are futilely struggling against hyperinflation amid a humanitarian crisis that has raged for years.
The Covax classification is more than a nuance amid the shortage of vaccines and the serious health crisis that the country is experiencing. “There is a little-discussed aspect of access to the Covax mechanism. It is designed to serve high- or middle-income countries, rich countries, and in a kind of cross-subsidy it allows access to part of the vaccines that these high-income countries need and finances coverage to the poorest countries ”, he explains Omar Zambrano, chief economist at the firm Anova Policy and senior at the Inter-American Development Bank. “Venezuela has been an upper-middle-income country. The economic collapse of these years, however, does not have a seat in the official accounts because the Government of Maduro for a long time has not published the economic and social figures of the country, nor has it served the Legislative branch, and (for five years) It has not even presented a Budget Law ”, he adds.
The country has also cut off relations with multilateral organizations, making it difficult for it to access credit and loans. The Venezuelan economy, traditionally the fifth largest in Latin America with a GDP per capita of $ 12,000, currently has a size similar to that of nations such as Honduras or El Salvador, of $ 1,500 per capita, highlights Zambrano. Venezuela continues to appear as a rich country, although it no longer is.
This distortion also occurred around the humanitarian emergency denounced by NGOs since 2014, decreed by the National Assembly controlled by the opposition in 2016 and recognized by the Maduro government in 2019, when the entry of humanitarian personnel from Nations was finally allowed. United to the country to provide care for the most vulnerable of the 9.3 million Venezuelans who require assistance, according to the humanitarian affairs agency.
Maduro has controlled the helm of the discussion about Covax in Venezuela. Initially, he said that due to the Washington sanctions, he did not have the resources to buy vaccines. Then, when a National Vaccine Technical Committee was formed in February with members of the opposition, it rejected the importation of AstraZeneca doses, which would be paid with part of the money that the United States had frozen to the Venezuelan government. The excuse was the first information on thrombi registered in Europe. Through other channels that he has not reported, Maduro obtained resources to pay for the Covax vaccines with the possibility of even choosing the brand. “We do not need to beg for vaccines,” said the president.
However, in early June, GAVI warned that the government still had to pay a part of the 120 million dollars that the purchase of Venezuela would cost and that four transactions had been blocked by the banks and placed under investigation. The Government has since blamed the United States sanctions for the inability to buy vaccines. Out of the debate is the fact that the country could have had free access to 12 million vaccines, to cover 20% of its population, if the Government had complied with its transparency obligations.
The United States left Venezuela off the list of countries that will receive donations of its surplus vaccines, precisely because of the government’s opacity. But at the same time, the Biden Administration, which now together with the European Union is prone to a lifting of sanctions tied to a commitment to free and fair elections, issued a specific license on June 16 that exempts transactions involving sanctions from sanctions. make the Government of Maduro related to covid-19, although the purchases of medicines and food were already exempted. This has been the first sign of easing of international pressure on Caracas and a response to the accusations about Washington’s responsibility in delaying the arrival of vaccines in Venezuela.
No official vaccination plan
The doubts are also placed on the vaccination itself. The objective of the Table set up in February was to agree on a single vaccination plan with technical criteria, priorities, transparency mechanisms, and monitoring of its application. The Government began vaccination in hospitals, but then switched to other centers without having presented the official plan, which led to days of long queues and a lot of uncertainty. “A plan has not been officially assumed, which in other countries may even appear as a resolution of the Ministry or be published in the Official Gazette,” says Carlos Walter, former Minister of Health. “In Venezuela there are no methodologies or selective criteria in the vaccination program. There is a process darwiniano on going. The management is the worst in Latin America ”, adds the epidemiologist Gustavo Villasmil.
The performance of vaccination has raised alarms in the scientific sectors and in civil society. Health personnel, who count more than 600 deaths from COVID-19, nor those over 60 years of age, had not been covered when a random vaccination conditional on registration in the Patria System – a government platform used for political control – had been covered. – already have a cell phone.
The Redelde Investiga Alliance —a journalistic collaboration of the media Runrunes, As it is Y The whistle– developed a Vaccine meter which serves as an indicator of vaccination in the country, in the absence of official figures. The data are based on the concise and disjointed information provided by national, regional and local entities and from local reporting. Since the first doses arrived in Venezuela, in February, until mid-June 22, only 813,000 had been applied, although official spokesmen have reported the arrival in the country of more than 3.2 million among Russian, Chinese and experimental . This represents just 3.7% of the population, the lowest vaccination figure in the region.
Vice President Delcy Rodríguez announced last week the signing of a contract with Cuba for the acquisition of 12 million of its Abdala vaccine – 92% effective in two doses, according to its developers – and the arrival of the first 30,000 vials to the country . “The rich countries have sabotaged the solidarity mechanism of Covax to distribute vaccines in the world,” he rebuked.
Venezuela entered the third phase of Abdala’s clinical trials in April. The National Academy of Medicine has warned, however, that the results have not yet been published in scientific journals. They also add that they still do not have the certification of the Cuban and Venezuelan regulatory bodies. “The main source of information on the two Cuban products has been the newspaper Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party. There is a pre-publication of the Soberana 02 product on its effect in animal models, there is nothing published about Abdala, ”they warned from the Academy. For this reason, they urge to wait for the WHO to issue an opinion on the authorization of its emergency use before starting to apply it in the country.
Subscribe here to the newsletter from EL PAÍS América and receive all the informative keys of the current situation of the region
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.