Venezuela sees sharp rise in infant and maternal mortality

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image captionHealth care workers protested in February in Caracas against President Nicolas Maduro's government, the lack of medicines and low salaries

There has been a sharp rise in infant mortality and maternal death rates in Venezuela.

In the first figures released for two years, the Health Ministry said the number of women dying in childbirth was up by 65%, while child deaths were up 30%.

There has also been a jump in illnesses such as malaria and diphtheria.

The figures reflect the country's deep economic crisis which the opposition says the government has mismanaged.

President Nicolas Maduro says the health crisis is caused by medicines being hoarded to encourage a coup against him.

The country has the largest oil reserves in the world but the collapse of oil prices a few years ago led to a recession and a shortage of the foreign currency needed to import equipment, food and medicines.

Venezuelans face shortages of everything from food to vaccines.

In a recent survey, three-quarters of Venezuelans say their health has plummeted, and that they are eating less than two meals a day. Many report losing an average of around 9 kilos (19 pounds).

In the health sector, large numbers of doctors have emigrated. A leading pharmaceutical association has said around 85% of medicines are in short supply.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency, a critic of the government's health policies, Dr Julio Castro, an infectious disease specialist said:

"The striking part is the turmoil in almost all categories that this bulletin addresses, with particularly significant increased in the infant and maternal health categories."

Many Venezuelans have trekked to the border with Brazil or Colombia to buy medicine there and seek treatment in public hospitals in neighbouring countries.

In Brazil, the state of Roraima declared a state of emergency to deal with thousands of Venezuelans seeking treatment by the public health service in small border towns.

It is not clear why Venezuela's Health Ministry published its figures now. It had stopped releasing figures after July 2015.

The country has been paralysed for over a month by almost-daily increasingly violent demonstrations against the government of Nicolas Maduro with protestors calling for elections.

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