This blog is part of a new series on Venezuela and Humanitarian Assistance. In this blog, we aim to explore how COVID-19 is impacting access to food and healthcare in Venezuela through pictures collected by local Premise users.
Both crises, a broken healthcare system and the lack of proper food security, were already in existence before the COVID-19 pandemic. In February 2020, the UN World Food Program published a study stating that only 1 in 3 Venezuelans had enough food to eat mainly due to hyperinflation. To cope with this, families were reducing the variety and quality of food they are eating, as well as accepting food as payment for work.
Similarly, the case of a chronic failing healthcare system has been made through multiple studies published by international aid and humanitarian organizations. In 2019, The Harvard International Review published an article stating that the development of the crisis has created shortages in medical equipment, medicines and vaccines. As of May 30, 2020, Venezuela had 1,370 official confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center; however, the real number could be higher, potentially due to a lack of reporting from the government and lack of testing services and general healthcare coverage, preventing a fully realized picture of how the coronavirus is affecting the population.
Premise’s technology allows us to crowdsource pictures from targeted regions to understand in real time what specific locations such as hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, street markets, grocery stores and restaurants look like during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Using pictures and locations, as well as key responses from our users as a proxy to identify access to healthcare, we looked into pictures from Caracas and Miranda and compared them to locations outside of the capital. We found that, overall, there seems to be long waiting times (due to lines outside of the locations or users reporting the waiting time for services of more than one hour). We also learned that there appears to be a gap in healthcare access depending on where the location is.
Busy pharmacies with long lines are potentially due to social distancing policies in Caracas and Miranda (metropolitan area).
Photos from pharmacies in Aragua, Carabobo and Lara reported by our users seem to be closed and/or smaller in size than those closer to the capital city.
Public hospitals and clinics in Caracas and Miranda show people waiting in line or sitting outside of the facilities. Some users reported wait times between 30 minutes and two hours or more.
At a health clinic in Valencia, Carabobo one Contributor reported the quality of the services at the site as ‘not very trustworthy.’
We repeated the exercise with pictures of restaurants, grocery stores and street markets as a proxy to understand the current conditions around access to food.
While many people appear to be wearing face masks out in public areas in Caracas and Miranda, there does not seem to be a strong emphasis on social distancing as many open-air markets as documented in these photos show large crowds standing closely together. Contributors reported between 20-50 people in close proximity in all of these locations.
Outside of the capital, people still appear to be donning face masks to go to public spaces and markets seem less crowded overall. This could be due to overall lower population density in these areas and/or more space available outside of highly urbanized spaces. From these photos, we were not able to get a good sense of quantity and quality of food available in Caracas and Miranda states as compared with elsewhere in Venezuela, but we hope to investigate this issue further.
Food insecurity has been an ongoing issue in Venezuela throughout the crisis and is now being felt more acutely due to chronic fuel shortages and the subsequent lack of ability to transport food being produced. Previously, the capital and surrounding areas were somewhat insulated from food shortages that were impacting the rest of the country, but photos from supermarkets and food shops taken during the COVID-19 outbreak tell a different story. Currently, it seems that citizens in Caracas and Miranda states are also experiencing long lines and wait times while trying to purchase food similar to those in other parts of Venezuela.
Throughout the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, access to food and necessary healthcare services have been severely impacted. While not completely immune to these issues, Caracas and adjacent Miranda state seem to be in a better position than the rest of the country due to a relative concentration of wealth and socioeconomic status. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, photographic evidence from health facilities and food access points shows a different picture of how the effects of the country’s deprivation are being felt in the capital. Long lines at pharmacies, health clinics, grocery stores and street markets show that people in the capital district may no longer be as protected from the impacts and challenges of accessing basic services. The effects in regions outside of larger cities with smaller and more precarious health facilities, like the pictures show, could also be an indicator of how the struggle for people in those locations could be affected. Real-time data and information are necessary to understand how COVID-19 is deepening the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Gaining a more fully developed understanding of how different portions of the population are being affected will enable humanitarian organizations to focus resources and ongoing relief efforts on those most in need.
As part of the JuntosEsMejor Challenge funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Premise was selected as a grant recipient to help provide innovative solutions to the humanitarian crisis that has been compounded by COVID-19 in Venezuela.
We are currently collaborating with international experts on information management in the humanitarian space, as well as Code for Venezuela, a technology non-profit formed by the Venezuelan diaspora focused on solving Venezuela’s most pressing needs. Our goal is to collect up-to-date data for international and national non-governmental organizations that would help them make more informed decisions and better basic services to Venezuelans. We will continue to share more insights and stories about our work on this project.
If you would like to learn more about how Premise can help you gather the data you need, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.