EFECaracas

The scarcity of medicines in Venezuela continues to be a tragedy visible in pharmacies and hospitals around the country, weeks after congress declared a "humanitarian health crisis" that includes the lack of 872 essential medications.

Cancer patients, HIV carriers, diabetics and those suffering hypertension must either trek from one drugstore to the next looking for the medications they need, or get someone to send them from some other country, or resort to the black market.

Efren Freay, a 37-year-old dance instructor, suffers from aplastic anemia, a disease that affects the bone marrow and can lead to leukemia.

After receiving a bone-marrow transplant over a year ago, Freay must take several medicines for the rest of his life, drugs that are now very hard to find and whose cost - when he does manage to get hold of them - is always exorbitant.

"I'm a transplant patient, I'm in control, but the monster is there, it's asleep and I can't let it wake up...but the lack of medications is accelerating that possibility," Freay told EFE.

He has to take a medicine to avoid cellular inflation that ordinarily costs the equivalent of roughly $48.

But since he can't find it in any pharmacy, he resorts to the black market, where it is sold without a box, with no indication where it came from or what its expiration date might be, at around $100.

The Caracas Central University Hospital accepts many people who have been turned away by other public health institutions because they have neither medicines nor medical supplies, patients say.

Even so, at the University Hospital many patients and their families told EFE that they have to go out and search for most of the medications prescribed for their ailments because there aren't any at the hospital or in drugstores.

At the hospital entrance, families anxiously exchange information in hopes of obtaining clues about ways to get the needed medicines.

Luisa Ochoa, 80, who was hospitalized after suffering a stroke, needs blood-pressure medicine.

Her daughter, Ines Merentes, told EFE the stroke happened because her mother had been unable to secure a supply of the blood-pressure drugs she had been prescribed to avoid such an eventuality.

Opposition lawmaker Jose Manuel Olivares has said that "there are no" medications available to treat cancer, diabetes, hypertension, convulsions or Parkinson's disease, nor are there any contraceptives, analgesics or antipyretics.

The day before Olivares made his statement, President Nicolas Maduro announced an agreement with Cuba by which Havana promised to provide medications for Venezuela "to solve the critical shortage problem."