Far from home, Venezuelan babies in Brazil face tough start


Boa Vista (Brazil) (AFP)

Their parents escaped poverty and chaos, but for babies of Venezuelans fleeing into neighboring Brazil the first days of life are still plenty tough.

In Boa Vista, capital of Roraima state, births of Venezuelan migrants at the city's sole public maternity hospital rose from 288 in 2016 to 572 last year, providing the latest measure of the growing humanitarian challenge on Brazil's border.

In January alone there were 74 Venezuelan babies born at the hospital, double the number seen in January last year, and officials expect there'll be about 700 by the end of 2018.

With mothers enduring terrible poverty and often unsanitary living conditions, many of the births are complicated.

"These are never the kind of patients who spend just a day or two here. Many have premature babies or mothers with diabetes," said Luiz Gustavo Araujo, technical director of the Nossa Senhora de Nazare hospital.

But anything is better than the economic collapse and political instability under President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuelan mothers say.

"I came because there was no way I could have my baby in Venezuela. It's getting worse and worse there," said Dayana Rodriguez, who arrived in Brazil already pregnant last November.

"There were complications with the pregnancy, so we'd both have died if I'd stayed behind."

The 17-year-old suffered convulsions when she went into labor and had to spend two weeks in Nossa Senhora de Nazare after giving birth to her daughter Sofia by caesarean section. Today they live with a relative already in Boa Vista, and Rodriguez sees no way back.

Sofia "would have virtually no future there," she said.

- Too late for some -

The maternity ward has clean, spacious rooms with five beds at most each, and often with relatives of the women in attendance.

Yulianny Vazquez, also just 17, was close to full term but said she'd had no medical check ups on her pregnancy until she left her home in El Tigre, western Venezuela, four months ago.

"I came because of the situation in Venezuela. I was afraid of staying there since there's no way to raise a baby. We don't have food or medicines there," she said, writhing with pain in her bed.

Araujo said the breakdown of oil-rich Venezuela's health care system was behind the many problematic births, with conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes often going undiagnosed or untreated.

Forty percent of the births among Venezuelans in Boa Vista last year were considered high risk. "Of the six deaths we registered during childbirth last year, two were of Venezuelans who'd come here in a serious condition," the hospital director said.

"They come because of a lack of medicine in their own country, but that leads to increased costs for us, because we're not set up for dealing with this type of population," he added.

- Long journeys -

About 40,000 Venezuelans are estimated to have poured into Boa Vista, with the influx accelerating over the last year. Many are living in unsanitary shelters.

Where migrants used to come from just over the border, now officials are registering people arriving from as far away as Caracas, 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away.

Eurimar Perez, 36, had her first three children in Santa Elena de Uairen, a town on the Venezuelan side of the border. For her fourth, though, she decided to go to Boa Vista.

"Things have changed. Everything has got worse. There's nothing left in the hospital where I had my other children. There are no doctors, no medicines. I couldn't risk having my baby there," she said one day after undergoing a C-section.

In a neighboring room, Rodriguez looked after her newborn Sofia. What future did she think the baby girl would have?

Rodriguez sobbed and said: "Whether it's in Brazil or Venezuela I just want to see her grow up and to make sure she has what I never had: a mother."