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Venezuela Covid-19 testing limited by
lack of fuel, water and electric power

Jonathan Lanza/AFP

People wearing a protective face mask picking up water at the neighborhood water source in Caracas, Venezuela,.

- Less than 1% of the new antigen tests have been used so far
- A second wave could be approaching, according to survey

By Nicolle Yapur/Bloomberg

CARACAS
Petroleumworld 12 21 2020


The prospect of Venezuela increasing Covid-19 testing using hundreds of thousands of new antigen test kits delivered over a month ago is threatened by the country’s chronic fuel shortages and lack of water and electricity.

The Health Ministry informed the Pan-American Health Organization, which supplied the tests, that fuel shortages, problems with utilities and personnel training have hampered the program, Ciro Ugarte, the PAHO’s emergency director, said in a virtual news conference Wednesday.

To date, just 1,600 of the 340,000 tests have been deployed, resulting in 400 positive cases, Ugarte said. Venezuelan authorities say the caseload has been under control despite recent easing of lockdown restrictions, reporting a daily average of roughly 400 cases in December.

Seven years of recession, a massive drop in oil exports and U.S. sanctions have left Venezuela with limited resources to face the pandemic, while the political standoff between President Nicolas Maduro and National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who is recognized as the country’s legitimate leader by more than 50 countries, has curtailed access to financing.

The official figures are at odds with accounts provided by doctors at local hospitals. A recent report by the National Hospital Survey, conducted by a team of medical experts and obtained by Bloomberg News, shows a sustained rise in the number of patients hospitalized with respiratory disease in the four weeks prior to Dec. 6. The increase suggests the start of a second wave of contagion, even if the official figures aren’t showing it, the report says.

The Information Ministry did not immediately replied to requests for comment.

Testing, Funding

Rapid antigen tests are more accurate in determining if someone is currently infected, unlike rapid, antibody tests, which can show when someone has had COVID-19 but often give a negative result during the early stages of infection. Antigen detection tests don’t replace PCR -- which detect the virus’s genetic material -- but act as a complement, according to PAHO.

Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker

The government maintains that Venezuela’s Covid-19 case rate remains low, while limiting testing to only five state-owned labs. The number of tests performed has declined, even in the months with highest transmission rates, according to official data, and the delay to get results has been a concern to PAHO.

The antigen tests, supplied by the PAHO under an agreement signed by the opposition-controlled National Assembly and the Maduro government, were expected to increase capacity to 10,000 tests per day by Dec. 31.

The government promised to increase testing and the areas of coverage during a meeting held last week, which included a National Assembly adviser on the pandemic response, according to Ugarte. PAHO is also discussing with both parties the release of additional funds to procure supplies and, potentially, a vaccine.

A pool of $1 billion from the Inter-American Development Bank to finance Latin American countries’ vaccine purchases is currently unavailable to Venezuela.

“When political and financial conditions allow it, the IDB stands ready to provide specific support to Venezuela,” the institution said in an email.

— With assistance by Alex Vasquez

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