World AIDS Day: Venezuela drugs shortage causes increase in HIV-related deaths

In Venezuela, this Sunday's World AIDS Day has taken on added importance due to the humanitarian crisis in the country. A shortage of anti-retroviral drugs has caused an increase in the number of AIDS-related deaths and HIV infections, a specialist says.

It is a constant fear for Venezuelan Richard Martinez that the anti-retroviral drugs he needs every month won’t be available. HIV-positive, Martinez has been living with the virus for nearly three decades, but his health has declined in recent years because the drugs he needs, which are distributed by the government, are regularly in short supply.

“From 2016 onwards, or three years ago, the shortages became more frequent and extensive. It's become the shortages of shortages,” he told FRANCE 24. “Lately, I’d say in the past couple years, the situation has become distressing and absolutely chaotic.”

An HIV/AIDS specialist, Mario Comegna says around 120,000 people in Venezuela are HIV-positive. That's a little less than 1% of the population and the country's humanitarian crisis has hit them particularly hard. Even if there are no official numbers, there's been a marked increase in AIDS-related deaths.

"It is difficult to get accurate data because there is still discrimination,” Comegna tells FRANCE 24. “The reports of patients who die of AIDS-related illnesses often don’t mention they were positive. So, the data is scarce, but it is clear that an irregular supply of medicine increases the mortality rate. "

There is a flicker of hope, though: The Pan American Health Organization and UNAIDS have sent money and medicine to the Venezuelan government. But distribution is still unreliable and many of those affected say they prefer to stay quiet, out of fear of discrimination.

Click on the player above to watch our full special report from Caracas.