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A woman shouts slogans during a protest outside the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Caracas, Venezuela September 25, 2017. The letters read "Health". REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes(reuters_tickers)
By Alexandra Ulmer
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's doctors, fed up with what they called the World Health Organization's passive attitude toward the country's deep medical crisis, protested at the agency's Caracas office on Monday to demand more pressure on the government and additional assistance.
Venezuela is suffering from a roughly 85 percent shortage of medicines, decrepit hospital infrastructure, and an exodus of doctors during a brutal recession.
Once-controlled diseases like diphtheria and measles have returned due in part to insufficient vaccines and antibiotics, while Venezuelans suffering chronic illnesses like cancer or diabetes often have to forgo treatment.
Malnutrition is also rising, doctors say.
Rare government data published in May showed maternal mortality shot up 65 percent while malaria cases jumped 76 percent. The former health minister was fired shortly after the bulletin's publication, and it has not been issued since.
In the latest protest by an umbrella group of health associations, dozens of doctors and activists gathered at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the WHO's regional office, urging the agency step up pressure on Nicolas Maduro's leftist government and provide more aid during its 29th Pan American Sanitary Conference this week.
"There's been a complicit attitude because they haven't denounced things," Dr. Rafael Muci said during the rally.
"This is an unlivable country, and no one is paying attention," he said, adding he earns about $8 a month at a state hospital.
In a statement on Monday, PAHO stressed its main role was to provide "technical cooperation" and highlighted recent help in providing vaccines.
The Venezuelan government, which accuses activists of whipping up panic and the business elite of hiding medicines, did not respond to a request for comment.
Venezuelans seeking certain drugs often have to scour pharmacies, seek foreign donations or turn to social media.
Sociologist Maria Angelica Casanova, 51, has struggled to find psychiatric medicines for a year. "Sometimes they come, sometimes they don't. It's serious," she said, as passers-by shouted "Down with Maduro!"
Measles, which were controlled after a mass immunization in the 1990s, has returned to Venezuela's jungle state of Bolivar, PAHO data show.
As the crisis stokes emigration, Venezuela's health problems could be exported, doctors warned.
"We don't know how many people who are emigrating could have some of these pathogens in incubation period," said Andres Barreto, an epidemiologist who had participated in the measles vaccination drive.
(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Additional reporting by Johnny Carvajal; Editing by Richard Chang)