Crisis in Venezuela: without supplies in hospitals, doctors protect themselves from the coronavirus with handmade masks

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A group of volunteers makes them with donations and gives them to health workers. Another search for scarcity.

Angelo found a new role in times of pandemic. Surrounded by acetate, worn tools and rivets, he manufactures face shields by hand to donate them to doctors who fight the coronavirus in Venezuela, where the health union denounces a shortage of protective equipment, in addition to all kinds of supplies and medicines.

With materials purchased with donations, Angelo Rangel and four other young residents of the El Cementerio neighborhood, an impoverished and dangerous area in western Caracas, assemble the masks from scratch in an old sewing workshop.

“Our role is to do them,” because “in the Venezuelan reality either we assume (new roles) or we die,” this 28-year-old social activist told AFP, proud of having made 720 pieces together with his colleagues since July for health workers.

“I do not have a factory, I am not the State, I am just a drop in the middle of an ocean, doing what little I can do,” he adds.

The government of Nicolás Maduro claims to have stopped the expansion of the coronavirus in Venezuela. It reports 91,280 cases and 789 deaths in this country of 30 million inhabitants, but organizations such as Human Rights Watch consider that these figures they underestimate a much more serious reality.

Protection material “is very scarce” in public health centers, Mauro Zambrano, a union leader of hospitals and clinics in Caracas, told AFP. Thus, although “they are not enough”, the donations “help a lot”, he adds.

The NGO Médicos Unidos counts 237 deaths of health workers by covid-19, many of which are excluded from official balance sheets.

Gloves and masks are scarce in more than 50% of what is necessary in hospitals in Caracas, which forces to constantly reuse chinstraps, says Zambrano, who warns that the situation is even more critical in the provinces.

“A doctor who is healthy is a doctor who gives us health”, reflects Angelo.

Three months after making their first protective masks, the five young people open a spacious room with beige walls where yarns and fabrics once abounded. The owner of this old workshop allows them to work there in exchange for donations such as medicines.

“We all know how to do everything,” says one of Angelo’s colleagues, Leyermer Mujica, a 24-year-old pastry chef who, when not making cakes, presses rivets and opens holes in plastic ties with a drill.

While activity bustles in the street despite the quarantine declared in Venezuela since March, still in force with flexibilities, Leyermer is busy with a worn-out press.

In principle, the volunteers manufactured rustic masks for themselves, using acetate sheets and implements that were given to them.

It occurred to them to go to social networks. “Look: I know how to do this. I only ask that they help me with materials,” Angelo recalls.

They raised enough to make 100 masks that they put together on the floor of one of the team’s home, located at the end of a narrow passageway of block houses and zinc roofs.

After several essays, readings and tutorials, the quintet created a mask with a movable acetate screen that is adjusted with an elastic band.

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