[For Rebecca Trotzky Sirr, besides lack of free condoms, the fundamental challenges to improving sexual healthcare across Venezuela remains, at heart, an ingrained machismo. Women die because, in spite of rhetoric promoting health as a human right, sexual health is still marginalised.]
Talking Dirty About Revolution: Sexual Health and Gender Inequality in Venezuela
By Rebecca Trotzky Sirr - Upside Down World
Monday, August 20, 2007
Though new laws guarantee all Venezuelans the right to healthcare, birth control and sexual education, poorer women disproportionately face health problems including higher rates of disease, STDs, unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions.
Sara walks into the neighborhood clinic where I am volunteering in rural Venezuela, in a municipality of less than 15,000 people situated in the Andes mountains. Besides tourism, agriculture fuels the local economy, which is dependent on small farms. Sara visited today for her checkup. She’s 35 and has lived here all her life. "Before this clinic was here, I never went to the doctor," she explains.
Even though a large portion of the problem lingers as a result of decades of inequalities from before Chavez government, and the health of the country has improved with increasing access to clinics thanks to social programs like Misión Barrio Adentro, women like Sara are dying in Venezuela because politicians are still afraid of condoms. More must be done to address sexual and reproductive health.
Sara tells me a recent history, proudly detailing the transformation of healthcare from a commodity available only for the rich, to a shared commonality for all. Before Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez implemented broad reforms redistributing oil revenues towards the social sector, many poor and rural families could not afford to go to doctors. Like in the United States, the mixed private-public healthcare system failed to deliver health prevention services to the country's most needy families. Sara and her family used to wait until her children were gravely ill before borrowing money from family and friends to go to the clinic in town. Now, a new clinic is located within walking distance from her house, and she pays nothing for a doctor's services, drugs, or medical supplies.
This clinic is one of thousands which have opened over the past 5 years. As a medical student and a 2006/07 Fulbright Scholar, I studied the expansive transformation of Venezuela’s healthcare system, from its theoretical underpinnings to my direct participation. Chavez launched a national program called Misión Barrio Adentro [Mission Inside Neighborhood] in 2003 that expanded access to primary care and preventive health services. In fact, access grew 6 fold in 6 months. Even though free public health centers existed before, both difficulties in reaching clinics and the high costs for medicines and supplies made true access to healthcare a pipe dream for many.
(click here to view entire article)