Having babies in Venezuela gets too expensive
CARACAS – Crisis-stricken Venezuela’s shortages of food and every day necessities, along with its crumbling medical sector and runaway inflation have left a growing number of young women counting the cost of motherhood and reluctantly opting for sterilization.
Regular contraceptives like condoms or birth control pills have joined just about everything else and virtually vanished from store shelves, leaving women with little choice.
Although no official statistics on sterilizations are available, doctors and health workers say demand for the hard-to-reverse surgery is growing.
The health programme for women in Miranda state, which includes parts of Caracas, has openings for 40 procedures on “sterilization days,” but as recently as last year rarely filled them.
500 on waiting list
Now all the available places are taken, with about 500 women on a waiting list, according to the programme’s director, Deliana Torres.
“Before, the conditions for this programme were that the women be low income and have at least four kids. Now we have women with one or two kids who want to be tied up,” Torres said.
Medical professionals at a national family planning organization and at three government hospitals in the states of Falcón, Táchira and Mérida also reported significant growth in demand for sterilizations in recent months.
Venezuela is a largely Roman Catholic country where church doctrine rejects all forms of contraception and abortion is banned unless a woman’s life is at risk.
The archbishop of Mérida, Baltazar Porras, told Reuters that an increase in sterilizations would be a “barbarity,” but words can ring hollow in a crisis that has triggered almost daily riots for food and heavily impacted the shrinking middle class as well as the poor.
Expectant mothers are particularly affected by the brutal recession, moreover, struggling to find adequate food and supplements, giving birth in overcrowded and underequipped hospitals, and having to spend hours in lines for scarce diapers, medicines and other essentials for infants.
Pressure to sterilize
Some health and social workers fear that the economic meltdown is putting pressure on women to make a choice they may come to regret at some later date if the crisis eases.
Social worker Ania Rodríguez says she meets up to five women a day seeking sterilizations, up from one or two a week about a year ago. When women seem unsure or pressured into sterilizations, Rodríguez tries to steer them towards contraceptives such as intra-uterine devices, which are somewhat more available and affordable than birth control pills or condoms.
But some women still have had to wait for months to be sterilized because there are limited openings at state hospitals and private clinics can charge about 12 times the monthly minimum wage.
Some health centres are unable to provide sterilizations at all due to a lack of equipment or staff.
With Venezuela’s economy in free fall and oil prices remaining stubbornly depressed, hospitals have deteriorated dramatically, with medicine shortages hovering around 85 percent, according to a leading pharmaceutical association.
Equipment ranging from surgical gloves to incubators is scarce, and many underpaid doctors have left the public sector or emigrated.
Caracas still maintains that it has one of the world’s best health systems and accuses detractors of waging a smear campaign. It has nevertheless stopped releasing timely health data.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says Venezuela’s neonatal mortality rate was 8.9 per 1,000 live births last year, way above the Americas region’s average of 7.7.
Venezuela’s maternal mortality rate was 95 per 100,000 live births in 2015, one of the worst rates in Latin America and up from 90 in 2000, according to the WHO.
Meanwhile, UN data shows that Venezuela has one of Latin America’s highest rates of teenage pregnancies and large numbers of single-parent households.