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More pregnant women, babies dying in Venezuela amid health crisis

By Andrew V. Pestano

May 10 (UPI) -- Venezuela's Ministry of Health said maternal mortality rates increased 65 percent and infant mortality rates increased 30 percent in 2016 during a health crisis worsened by an economic collapse.

On its website, the agency said malaria and diphtheria rates also increased over last year.

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In 2016, 11,466 infants died in Venezuela, while 756 mothers died while pregnant or within 42 days after pregnancy. In 2015, 8,812 infants died, while 456 mothers died.

Venezuela is facing an economic and political crisis. Goods such as food, toiletries and medicine are in short supply, unavailable or unaffordable.

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Venezuelan hospitals have also lost medicine and transplant organs due to power failures. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blames the shortages of medicine and other goods on an "economic war and the fall in oil prices." Critics blame Maduro's government as corrupt and incompetent.

In March, Venezuela's Medical Federation said hospitals had less than 5 percent of the medicine needed to properly treat patients.

On Tuesday, the Health Ministry said it launched an effort in the state of Guárico in which pregnant women will be encouraged to take part in prenatal exercises aimed at protecting mothers and their children during pregnancy "in addition to reducing obstetric risks."

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"Every pregnant patient who wants to join this program should go to the doctor's office to be referred to this activity, after being evaluated by the corresponding doctor," Maternal and Child Care Program coordinator Xiomara Montañez said in a statement.

On Friday, the Health Ministry announced an agreement with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to "fortify cooperation ties to face common health problems," particularly when it concerns blood donations, control of viral hepatitis B and C and eliminating rabies transmitted by dogs to humans.

The agreement also attempts to lower health costs, increase access to medicine and attempt to eradicate tuberculosis.

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In September, the Venezuelan Society of Public Health warned that diphtheria, an easily contagious infectious disease eradicated in Venezuela in the late 1940s, likely killed three children.

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