With Medicine Running Out, Venezuelans With Kidney Transplants Live in Fear

Yasmira Castano, a young Venezuelan felt she had a new lease on life when she received a transplant over 20 years ago, enabling her to finish high school and go on to pursue work as a manicurist.

However, sometime last year, she wasn’t able to find the drugs that prevented her body from rejecting the organ. She is now 40 years of age and with the current economic turmoil in the country, the healthcare system is undergoing a steady decline.

She was rushed to a crumbling state hospital on Christmas Eve when she was weak and frail. They observed that the organ had been attacked by her immune system and shortly after, the kidney was lost.

Now, she requires dialysis three times a week to be able to filter her own blood. The Venezuela Central University hospital, which used to be one of the best hospitals in all of South America, is where she receives treatment and as a result of the current situation in the country, the hospital witnesses frequent water outages and lack of dialysis material.

She noted that some nights, she doesn’t sleep; she stays up worrying as she lay on an old bed in a bleak hospital room, weighing little more than 77 pounds. “I could die,” said Castano’s roommate, who recently turned 21 but lost her kidney last year and is having trouble getting the dialysis she needs to keep her body functioning properly.

These are only 2 of the approximately 3,500 transplant patients in Venezuela. They now live in fear after years of living a normal life, as their nation continues to struggle on all economic fronts.

In the past month, about 31 transplant patients have started witnessing their body reject their transplanted organs as a result of the lack of drugs. At least 7 have died within the last 3 months as a result of the complications that arise from kidney failure.

Another 16,000 Venezuelans are hopeful that they get one of these elusive transplants and until then, have to settle for dialysis to get their blood cleaned, and even with this, have to deal with a lack of sufficient materials. About half of the dialysis units in the country are out of service.

Also, diseases that were once considered to be a thing of the past like measles and diphtheria have found their way back as a result of the lack of antibiotics and vaccines. Those who suffer from more deadly chronic diseases like diabetes or even cancer can practically forget about getting any form of treatment, because the resources simply are not available.

Over the past year, Venezuelans have been leaving the country en masse. Hundreds of thousands have found their way out as a result of the lack of basic amenities and health care necessary to sustain them.


Patients who are terrified, settle for getting pricey (and potentially unsafe) medicines on the black market or begging their friends and relatives abroad to funnel drugs into the country or they resort to the very dangerous technique of reducing the daily dosage by themselves in order to stretch out stock.

A 45-year old father of 2 with kidney transplant resorted to using immuno-suppressants meant for animals just last year.

Two brothers, Guillermo and Emerson Habanero, both underwent kidney transplants after suffering polycystic kidney disease. Emerson, formerly a healthy police officer died in November aged 53 after a month without immuno-suppressants.

Habanero, a 56-year-old computer repairer in the poor hillside neighborhood of Catia was quoted as saying, “If you lose your kidney, you go to dialysis and if there are no materials, you go straight to the cemetery.”

The Maduro government stated that the real culprit is an alleged US-led business elite seeking to sabotage its socialist agenda by hoarding medicine and imposing sanctions.

Socialist party heavyweight Diosdado Cabello stated in a recent comment on his weekly television program that he sees this as an example of, “The cynicism of the right wing, claiming they’re worried about those who can’t get dialysis, while in reality, it’s their fault: they’re the one who have asked for sanctions and a blockade in Venezuela.”

The activists blame Maduro for corrupt and inefficient handling of the medical crisis and contend that the announcements made by the government on imports of more dialysis materials are insufficient.

It is expected that Maduro will win a new 6-year term in the April ’22 presidential election, despite his unpopularity. There is also a good chance that the opposition will boycott the vote, which it has already denounced as rigged in favor of the government.

Despite the deteriorating state of the country, Maduro has refused to receive food and medicine donations. Medicine is constantly being smuggled in by doctors and activists, however, the limited quantities their suitcases can contain is a far cry from the amount required to treat the country’s ill.

Patients are clamoring for humanitarian aid in the decaying hospitals and dialysis centers throughout the nation.

On Castellanos’ 21st birthday, she was dolled up and surrounded by cakes; she took selfies and spoke with great hope for the day she would return to the dance floor to participate in one of the activities she misses most – dancing. However, her fear that it may never happen is a very real one given the circumstances surrounding public health in Venezuela. She went on to say that they need other countries to help.

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