Doctors in Venezuela warned that an outbreak of a mosquito-borne disease in Venezuela could lead to a wider epidemic, as it had in other South American nations. The government accused one doctor of “psychological terrorism” and threatened him with prosecution, forcing him to flee the country. Representatives of the medical profession characterized the threats as part of a campaign against their independence.
President Nicolas Maduro Moros
Of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Final Avenida Urdaneta Esq. de Bolero
Palacio de Miraflores
We are writing in concern for Drs. Angel Sarmiento, Gustavo Vilasamil and Julio Castro.
Angel Sarmiento, a physician in Aragua state, warned against an outbreak of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne disease, after eight patients died of the disease, according to Science Magazine. Chikungunya had caused 729,178 suspected and 9537 confirmed cases throughout South America, according to the Pan American Health Organization. Sarmiento, Vilasamil, health minister of the state of Miranda, and Castro, the health minister of Sucre and a professor of tropical medicine at the Central University of Venezuela, stated publicly that that the reported cases of chikungunya are “the tip of an iceberg” and they estimated that 65,000 to 117,00 people in Venezuela may become infected with this disease.
In a televised speech on September 17, President Maduro accused Sarmiento of fomenting “psychological terrorism” and instructed his attorney general to open a case against him. Sarmiento fled the country a few days later. Vilasamil and Castro temporarily left their homes in fear of retaliation, according to reports.
Whether the health care professionals’ estimates, which are based on World Health Organization standards for calculating the spread of epidemics, are correct or not, is a question of science and medicine. Accusations of terrorism are neither in the interest of science or of public welfare. The threats against Sarmiento have apparently resonated with the Venezuelan medical community as governmental hostility towards all of its members. “What they want is to silence all of us,” said Feder Alvarez, a pediatrician and secretary of Aragua’s College of Physicians. “They’re not just persecuting Angel [Sarmiento]. They’re persecuting the medical community.”
We urge you to withdraw any threats of prosecution against Sarmiento or his colleagues. We also recommend that you consider the issue of chikungunya exposure and danger through the independent expertise of established medical and scientific organizations, without fear of political repercussion. This would be consistent with Venezuela’s obligation to assure its people the benefits of science, as prescribed in Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, to which Venezuela is a signatory.
Sincerely,Joel L. Lebowitz, Paul H. Plotz, Walter Reich,
Eugene M. Chudnovsky, Alexander Greer
Co-Chairs, Committee of Concerned Scientists
Dr. Nancy Perez Sierra. Minister of Health
Parque Central, Torre Oesty, pisos 39-41
- In Venezuela, doctor flees after being accused of terrorism amid fever outbreak (news.sciencemag.org)
- For Venezuelan academics, speaking out is risky business (news.sciencemag.org)