With Medicine Running Out, Venezuelans With Transplants Live in Fear

Press. voanews.com
Yasmira Castano felt she had a fresh chance at life when she received a kidney transplant almost two decades ago. The young Venezuelan was able to finish high school and went on to work as a manicurist. But late last year, Castano, now 40, was unable to find the drugs needed to keep her body from rejecting the organ, as Venezuela's health care system slid deeper into crisis following years of economic turmoil.

On Christmas Eve, weak and frail, Castano was rushed to a crumbling state hospital in Venezuela's teeming capital, Caracas. Her immune system had attacked the foreign organ and she lost her kidney shortly afterward. Now, Castano needs dialysis three times a week to filter her blood. But the hospital attached to Venezuela's Central University, once one of South America's top institutions, frequently suffers water outages and lacks materials for dialysis.

Yasmira Castano, 40, who lost her transplanted kidney, lies on a bed at a state hospital in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 7, 2018. "I spend nights not sleeping, just worrying," said Castano, who weighs around 77 pounds (35 kg), as she lay on an old bed in a bleak hospital room, its bare walls unadorned by a television or pictures. Her roommate Lismar Castellanos, who just turned 21, put it more bluntly.

"Unfortunately, I could die," said Castellanos, who lost her transplanted kidney last year and is struggling to get the dialysis she needs to keep her body functioning. The women are among Venezuela's roughly 3,500 transplant recipients. After years leading normal lives, they now live in fear as Venezuela's economic collapse under President Nicolas Maduro has left the once-prosperous OPEC nation unable to purchase sufficient foreign medicine or produce enough of its own.

Some 31 Venezuelans have seen their bodies start to reject their transplanted organs in the last month due to lack of medicine, according to umbrella health group Codevida, a nongovernmental organization. At least seven have died due to complications stemming from organ failure in the last three months. A further 16,000 Venezuelans, many hoping for an elusive transplant, are dependent on dialysis to clean their blood — but here, too, resources and materials are sorely lacking. Nearly half of the country's dialysis units are out of service, according to opposition lawmaker and oncologist Jose Manuel Olivares, a leading voice on the health crisis who has toured dialysis centers to assess the scale of the problem.
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