Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Family Planning

Contraceptive shortages mean Venezuela’s people face a sexual health emergency

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 23 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1197
  1. Angelika Albaladejo, independent journalist, Medellín, Colombia
  1. angelikaalbaladejo{at}

Health indicators that had improved over decades are coming undone as the country’s economic situation deteriorates, leaving people without access to reproductive, sexual, and HIV healthcare. Angelika Albaladejo reports

It is several years since Venezuela’s socialist government stopped providing free contraception—including birth control pills, intrauterine devices, and condoms—at public hospitals and through federal distribution programmes. And although pharmacies once sold subsidised contraception cheaply, low stock has led to high prices.

Venezuelans face stark shortages and rocketing prices, not just for contraception but for all necessities. A worsening economic crisis prompted by a crash in oil prices in 2014 and compounded by US sanctions, strict currency controls, and high inflation has decimated production and imports of all goods.

Under former President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s socialist government used growing oil wealth to fund programmes aimed at reducing poverty, eradicating hunger, and improving access to healthcare for poorer Venezuelans. But progress made over decades is rapidly backsliding.

Highest teen pregnancy and HIV rates

Everything from drugs to food is in short supply, leaving many forms of contraception impossible to find and others prohibitively expensive. The Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation, which represents pharmacists, estimates that stocks of contraceptives in the country have fallen by 90% since 2015.

Venezuela already had among the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy and HIV infection in Latin America before the economic collapse.12

As the country’s economic and political situation has worsened, President Nicolas Maduro’s government has largely stopped releasing public health statistics. But contraception shortages are exacerbating an already dire public health emergency and contributing to spikes in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal and infant mortality, and sexually transmitted diseases, sexual and reproductive health experts in the country told The BMJ.

Jorge Díaz Polanco, an investigator for the Venezuelan Health Observatory, the public health research and advocacy arm of Venezuela’s Central University, told …

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