EFECaracas

The head of the association representing Venezuelan drugmakers asked the World Health Organization and other international organizations to send medicines to the Caribbean country.

"Patients are dying because of the humanitarian crisis we're going through," Fefarven president Freddy Ceballos told the Globovision network. "I don't believe (the government) will refuse to receive humanitarian aid from institutions like the WHO when it comes to certain essential medications like the very expensive ones for cancer patients."

The association president has been warning since last year that Venezuela is going through a "humanitarian crisis" due to the breakdown in the supply of medicines.

Ceballos said last week that the government "owes the sector $4 billion."

He repeated that assertion this Monday and confirmed his support for the decision taken last week by the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which declared a "humanitarian emergency due to the lack of medicines and medical supplies in the country."

Venezuela currently lacks some 70 percent of the 150 medications established by the WHO as essential and therefore of obligatory access, opposition lawmaker Carlos Valero said.

Ceballos said the companies belonging to Fefarven are capable of producing needed medicines, but that first the government must sell them the dollars needed to pay international suppliers of medical ingredients, a dependency resulting from the exchange controls in effect since 2003.

Until then, Ceballos said the most urgent problems of medical shortages "can be solved with the aid of international organizations."

Health Minister Luisana Melo said last month that statistics showing a scarcity of medical supplies "indicate an irrational use of medicines" and announced a supply policy that guarantees access to the ones "that are really necessary."