VENEZUELA REPLACES HEALTH MINISTER AFTER DATA SHOWS CRISIS WORSENING

VENEZUELA

(Reuters) President Nicolas Maduro has abruptly dismissed Venezuela’s health minister days after the government broke a nearly two-year silence on data which showed the country’s medical crisis significantly worsening.

Gynecologist Antonieta Caporale, who held the post for just over four months, was replaced by pharmacist Luis Lopez, the government said.

Ministry data published this week showed cases of infant mortality rose 30 percent, maternal mortality 65 percent and malaria shot up 76 percent last year. There was also a jump in illnesses such as diphtheria and Zika.

In the fourth year of a brutal recession, Venezuela is suffering widespread shortages of medicines and basic medical equipment. A leading pharmaceutical association has said roughly 85 percent of medicines are running short.

Millions are also struggling with food shortages and soaring inflation, fuelling protests against Maduro.

In announcing the Cabinet change late on Thursday night, Vice President Tareck El Aissami did not provide reasons for the minister’s ouster.

“President Nicolas Maduro is grateful to Doctor Antonieta Caporale for her work,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Health Ministry had stopped releasing figures after July 2015, amid a wider data blackout.

It defines infant mortality as the death of children aged 0-1 and maternal mortality as death while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of a pregnancy.

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