Venezuela’s farcical medical device crisis

BOGOTA, Colombia. The government of Venezuela, which owes medical device companies around the world more than US$245 million, is now calling for the arrest of domestic device distributors.

In an impressive display of do-it-yourselfness President Nicolás Maduro himself led a daring raid into a warehouse full of medical devices, seized them all and swore: “as my name is Nicolás Maduro” the “bourgeois” that dared invest and trade in his country would find themselves in handcuffs.

Among the people in question is an older man who is in charge of the warehouses at Suministros Médicos Jayor (he is the father of the owner) and has been in Miami for four weeks recovering from a heart attack. The Venezuelan Association of Distributors of Medical, Odontological and Lab Devices the company has been in business for a quarter century.

Its days may be numbered. The company is now heavily indebted to foreign suppliers and some of its top officials are sought by domestic authorities. (Maduro threatened to involve Interpol but that has not happened yet.)

As Sergio Held reports in Medical Device Daily (paywall), Venezuela is not allowing domestic companies access to foreign currency. This makes it impossible for them to pay off their suppliers abroad. So the debts have piled up.

The shortage of medical supplies is severe. Surgeries have been cancelled as a result.

The government said a few months ago that it would release enough currency for medical device distributors to square themselves away with their foreign suppliers, most of which now want cash on the barrel.

Ironically, one of the companies that was given access to some cash was Suministros Médicos Jayor, the same company that had its warehouses raided.

For the time being, the priority for the regulator that controls foreign currency, Cencoex, appears to be the purchases of goods for Christmas parties. Medical supplies fall much further down in the list of priorities.

Not only that but it now seems that besides being in enormous debt, running a medical device supplier in Venezuela can land you in jail for as long as 10 years.

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