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Working in one of the world’s most dangerous hospitals during COVID-19

An illustrated story of corruption in Venezuela during a global pandemic

Illustration: a woman looks outside the window, it is raining, a man in a white doctor coat runs into an hospital,

Illustration: Clayton Junior © Transparency International

The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2020 highlights how corruption undermines the global health response to COVID-19 and the enormous risks that health care workers take every day to help people fight the disease and stay healthy.

The following story is about José*, a doctor on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Venezuela. He is just one of more than 1,800 people who reported corruption related to COVID-19 to our Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) around the globe.

Illustrations: a doctor tries to work in an overcrowded hospital, without the right material and running water

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed Venezuela's already collapsing health care system to the limit. More than half the country’s doctors had left in recent years as émigrés or refugees. Doctors and nurses earn as little as six dollars per month in public hospitals and often lack access to soap and running water, let alone masks, gloves, gowns, and other essential PPE. As a result, doctors make up more than 14 percent of the COVID-19 death toll in Venezuela.

Illustrations: the doctor meets an ALAC employee to discuss his situation, he worries about his family

In July 2020, José, a doctor at a public hospital in Venezuela, reached out to the ALAC at one of our local chapters, Transparencia Venezuela, because the risks of his work had become too great. He was worried that without personal protective equipment (PPE), he would become sick and spread the virus to his family. If his wife or children became infected, he lacked an adequate salary to pay for their care.

Illustrations: the doctor hands out his resignation, but two threatening policemen in black surround him. He anxiously sits at a table with the ALAC employee, who presents is case to a public hearing

José tried handing in his resignation, but the hospital administration refused to let him quit. When he insisted, he was threatened by officers from the Special Action Forces (FAES), a branch of the national police that has been implicated in extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests.

José’s decision to speak out, combined with the critical state of the health care system, was taken very seriously by the Transparencia Venezuela staff. The chapter requested a public hearing on the general situation of hospitals and corruption in the Venezuelan health sector before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The chapter testified about the lack of PPE, water and other supplies, as well as the deteriorated conditions of hospitals. The commission has the power to enforce legal protections for health care workers to ensure their physical welfare.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

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