Alternative medicine

Venezuelans turn to alternative medicine amid shortages

The small waiting room at the home of the self-proclaimed healer “Brother Guayanes” in Caracas’ rundown neighborhood of Petare is quickly filling with patients – business has never been better.

With chronic drug shortages and hyperinflation in Venezuela, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-ridden South American country.

“We go to the hospital and there is nothing. They don’t have medicine, or it’s too expensive, what do we do?” said Rosa Saez, 77, who came for treatment for a sore arm.

Carlos Rosales – he uses the more formal “Brother Guayanes” for his business – completes a “spiritual intervention” on a patient in what passes for his operation.

The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of rustles and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.

The healer says he performs 200 such procedures a week in a dark, candle-lit room that includes two cots and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent “spiritual entities.”

A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has confidence in Rosales’ methods: “He healed my kidneys.”

natural healing

Across Venezuela, but particularly in impoverished regions like Petare, patients cannot hope to pay the price of drugs which, due to the economic crisis, have become extremely scarce.

The federation of pharmacists of Venezuela says that pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20% of the stock of necessary medicines.

The Rosales clinic is stuffy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix hanging from a chain around his neck, he practices an apparent blend of smoke shamanism, herbal medicine and mainstream religion.

Posters hung near the entrance reminding customers to arrive with a candle and tobacco and “Remember payment is in cash”.

Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions made from plants and fruits, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.

“We know the drugs are needed,” he says. “I am not against medicine, but my medicine is botany.”

Plants replace drugs

At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, Lilia Reyes, 72, says she has seen her herbal medicine business flourish.

“I can’t keep up with the demand,” she said at her stall bathed in the aroma of chamomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.

Careless consumption of certain herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor in a public hospital in Caracas, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.

According to Venezuelan opposition parties, some 300,000 people with chronic illnesses are at risk of dying due to drug shortages.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.

In the kitchen of her restaurant, which closed three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat “diabetic neuropathy”.

The painkillers needed for the disease are “too expensive” and prices are rising due to hyperinflation, so she cuts back on pills and supplements her treatment with herbal infusions.

She needs at least four tablets a day to control her diabetes. Her mother, who has been bedridden since breaking her leg a year ago, has Alzheimer’s disease and needs five pills a day for high blood pressure.

“I’m still taking my pills, but I’ve reduced the dose,” says Teresa, who also replaces cholesterol pills with lemon juice.

Report highlights worsening health crisis in Venezuela

© 2019 AFP

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