CARACAS – Kathiana Cardona’s life took a 180-degree turn a year ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
After exhausting all of her own resources and possibilities, she – like many other people in crisis-hit Venezuela – resorted to crowdfunding to raise money for her costly and life-saving treatment.
“I never imagined that I would be in this position, and I was ashamed, I was sincerely ashamed, but here I am,” Cardona told EFE, recalling that not long before she herself had organized collection drives through her involvement in a movement in defense of human rights.
Venezuela, the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves, has been mired for more than five years in a deep economic crisis, one further exacerbated by severe United States-imposed sanctions aimed at ousting leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro.
The crisis has exacted a heavy toll on public services and the health-care system and left the vast majority of Venezuelans (more than 96 percent of Venezuelan households have an income level below the poverty line, according to recent study) unable to afford a medical treatment or surgery.
Crowdfunding – the practice of obtaining needed funding by soliciting contributions from many individual donors – has emerged as an option for Venezuelans when trying to gain access to large sums of money.
By contrast, smaller requests are typically made via social media, with different groups receiving donations and channeling badly needed items – including syringes and medicines – to the most needy.
In Cardona’s case, crowdfunding was the clear option given her exorbitant medical bills.
“My treatment costs $40,000, the treatment alone,” Cardona said, noting that she will need to undergo surgery after her tumors have shrunk in size.
This photographer and designer thus far has raised around $5,000 of the $55,000 she set as a goal at a popular crowdfunding website. That money has covered her initial costs, but a long road still lies ahead.
Health in Venezuela is a social right enshrined in the current constitution that then-President Hugo Chavez (1954-2013), who was Maduro’s mentor and predecessor, promoted and voters approved in a 1999 referendum.
Article 83 of that charter, which Chavez had touted as one of the world’s most advanced and progressive, states that health is the “responsibility of the State, which shall guarantee it as part of the right to life.”
The constitution also states that Venezuela’s national public-health system is governed by the principles of gratuity, universality, completeness, fairness, social integration and solidarity.
But that system has long been in a state of collapse, prompting those with sufficient resources to ensure access to medical care by acquiring private health insurance.
Cardona and most other Venezuelans, however, remain dependent on a system that is not fulfilling its stated aims.
Another victim of the collapsed system is futsal player Christian Arias, who sustained a serious injury that put his career in jeopardy and forced him to ponder an early retirement from his sport.
Known affectionately as “El Loco,” this competitor in the National Futsal League ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee during a game.
The Real Esperanza goalkeeper, who had intercepted a pass and dribbled the length of the field past a series of defenders, felt his knee buckle under him when attempting a shot on goal.
“(The injury) is really affecting my spirits,” the 25-year-old told EFE. “Soccer is my life. The people who know me (are aware of that). Soccer is my life. It’s truly my life,” he added.
Arias needs $4,500 to cover the cost of the ligament repair, patella (knee cap) relocation and several months of rehabilitation, according to the cost estimate from a sports medicine clinic.
That amount may seem low considering the seriousness of the injury, but it is a small fortune in Venezuela and more than his team can afford.
The club’s management and Arias’ sister therefore suggested crowdfunding as a possible way to raise the money.
“I’d love to have that $4,500, but unfortunately I don’t,” Arias said with resignation in his voice. “I’ve raised around $270 so far. I’m not giving up hope, but it’s quite an uphill battle.”