Venezuela imports vast majority of basic goods it consumes with oil money, which accounts for 96% of its foreign currency. However, cash has dried up as crude prices have slid by more than 50% since mid-2014. As Venezuela struggles through an economic crisis exacerbated by falling prices of oil, Venezuela's Pharmaceutical Federation estimates that 70% of medications have disappeared from the shelves in the country.
Transplant recipients revealed that in early July, 2015, their immunosuppressant drugs vanished altogether, forcing them to take desperate measures to prevent their bodies from rejecting their vital organs. Pharmaceutical Federation president Freddy Ceballos informed that when the human version (of prednisone) ran out, everyone started looking for the canine version. Francisco Valencia, the head of a foundation that provides support and free medicine to transplant recipients, said, "This is putting people's lives at risk."
Leftist President Nicolas Maduro's government, which has not released official figures on the shortages since February 2014, said, "Prednisone supplies did not run out. A shipment of 1.2 million tablets arrived from Cuba last month." The government informed that they were in the process of importing two other drugs for transplant recipients.
Deputy Health Minister Henry Hernandez said, "It's false that there's a shortage. Let's remember, the rate of patients who receive transplants in Venezuela is about 2,000 per year and we have this medication for all of 2015."
The Venezuelan Medical Federation also revealed that patients are increasingly using the animal versions of antibiotics, steroids and topical drugs for skin conditions. And while the patients did not report negative side effects from animal prednisone, transplant expert Alejandro Cisneros said, "No medication should be used that isn't indicated for human consumption."
The pharmaceutical industry said, "The government currently owes us $3.5 billion for unpaid imports."
The economic crisis has also caused a supply crunch at several hospitals. Many of them have had to suspend crucial operations such as heart surgery.