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Be a Hero -- Send Your Unused Medications to Venezuelans in Crisis

September 13, 2016

Cristobal Plaza, director of ActionforSolidarity.org, talks about the medication shortages in Venezuela and how you can help while the situation is resolved one day.



Below is a lightly edited transcript of the video interview with Cristobal Plaza.

It is my honor to have Cristobal Plaza with us today. He is the director of Action for Solidarity, a non-profit organization based in Miami, Florida, that works mostly in helping Latin American countries that have very little access to HIV medications -- particularly Venezuela, since that country is going through a humanitarian crisis right now. Thank you so much, Cristobal, for joining us today. Let us know, how can we help people in Venezuela right now?

First of all, Nelson, thank you so much for having me here today and for giving us the opportunity to record this short video which, I am sure, will help us a lot. I feel very honored to be here talking to you. I would like to start by addressing the two words you just mentioned: "humanitarian help." That is what we are really needing right now. Venezuela is in a very deep health crisis that is particularly afflicting people living with HIV.

Action for Solidarity (established in 1997) has been helping Venezuela by sending medications donated in the United States to our health center in Caracas. Our Caracas health center is led by Feliciano Reyna, who is the president of action for solidarity in Venezuela and here in the United States. We have a system in which we can get donations from people all over the United States with no shipping costs, thanks to our partnership with the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Once we establish contact with people who want to donate their medications, we send them a prepaid shipping label and they can mail the medication through the USPS at no cost if the package weights 10 pounds or less. If it's over 10 pounds, they need to take it to the post office and pay for the shipping. The USPS will send the donations directly to our center here in Miami.

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How can people contact you?

They can contact us through our website or through our social networks: actionforsolidarity on Instagram, Action4Help on Twitter and Action for Solidarity, Inc on Facebook. They can email us at actionforsolidarity@gmail.com.

Tell us about the medications needed right now

We need all antiretrovirals. There is a list on our website. The health crisis In Venezuela is so generalized that it's not only affecting people with HIV. We are receiving medications, especially antiretrovirals, from people living with HIV. We need over-the-counter and prescribed medications, especially medications for opportunistic infections. There are no medications for opportunistic infections right now in Venezuela. There still are some antiretrovirals left, but the shortage of medications is so big, and it has been constantly happening in Venezuela, so right now in September 2016 there are 14,000 people without treatment.

There are many factors involved in this situation.

We really need antiretrovirals, opportunistic infections and any kind of over the counter medications for any kind of health condition, as well. Again, there are not just people with HIV suffering, the entire Venezuelan population, and specifically the more vulnerable population, which are children and elder people, are suffering with this crisis.

Why is this happening? Why is the world not helping Venezuela?

Well, two of the most important reasons are, of course, the negligence of the government of Venezuela and the lack of administrative funds. They have not managed or administered the funds correctly. Of course, corruption is involved. The Venezuelan minister of health, Luisana Melo, doesn't seem to have enough knowledge of the issue, so that is why the government doesn't understand the importance of antiretroviral treatment and the importance of adherence. (Adherence means that people need to take their medications every day as prescribed by their doctors or their prescribers).

Antiretroviral medications are prescriptions that, once you start taking them, you have to take them for the rest of your life. This shortage of medications has caused people to stop their treatment for months. Right now, many people have been off medications for over three months, I would say, since June. The government made a purchase of medications in June through a private company in India. We finally received the medications, but The Pan American Health Organization has not released the medications from their office because the government owes them about $2 million. It is very disturbing and very worrying.

Are Venezuelans doing anything about it? I understand there is a referendum trying to be passed. Without getting into too much detail, because it's a long story, I just want to make sure that people understand that we're seeking help from everybody around the world, but Venezuelans are also actively trying to fix the situation themselves.

Yeah, there are numerous organizations in Venezuela working specifically for people with HIV doing a lot of work. It has been very tough for them. They have tried to get attention by denouncing the shortage of medication throughout the years. This started back in 2009, and it's been going on since then. Last November, the Health Ministry should have placed a purchase order for medications for HIV, but it didn't. That's when all these huge problems started.

Right now, I repeat, there are more than 14,000 people not taking medications. We really need to help those people because, based on what we are seeing, the Venezuelan government is not going to solve this issue anytime soon.

We need help from people all over the world.

We have received many donations that we have sent from the United States through our organization. I also know through Feliciano, the president of action for solidarity, that they have received other donations in huge quantities from other countries in the world. The government insists on saying that they do not need help, and there is not a health crisis in Venezuela, so what can you say ...

If somebody doesn't have medications but wants to help anyway, can she/he donate funds for helping with your shipping costs and operating expenses?

Yeah. It costs us a lot of money to keep this motor going. Again, people can send us medications and can send us monetary donations through our Charity Certified PayPal Account that has our name, Action for Solidarity. If you look it up on PayPal you will see that once you type our name, Action for Solidarity, it will show up as a certified charity, non-profit organization.

Tax deductible, then. Closing up, we made this video so people can help. People can actually go to your website to donate the funds or medications and contact you directly if they have any questions.

They can contact us through the email, actionforsolidarity@gmail.com, through our website actionforsolidarity.org, or through our phone number 786-307-3857. That's the number for the office.

I really hope that we can get some help from everybody watching this video. This situation, hopefully, eventually will get better, but before we get there, we need a lot of help. Look at your bathroom cabinets, look at the medications that are sitting there that may not have expired, that you may not have used in a while or you have switched from. A lot of people are switching from one medication to another. If you go to a store, Walmart, Target or any other store and you buy Ibuprofen, Tylenol or any other over-the-counter medicine it would be great as well. If you don't have any medications you can always make, as Cristobal said, a tax-deductible donation through his website. Thank you so much Cristobal.

Thank you, Nelson.

Don't lose steam. I know it gets frustrating and tiring. Especially we who get a lot of emails and calls from Venezuela from desperate people that really need help.

We get those day after day after day. Thank you for sticking with the cause and for having a big heart to help others survive this illness regardless of all the political changes Venezuela is going through. Thank you so much and stay tuned for the next video from the Program for Wellness Restoration. Thank you so much, and talk to you guys soon.


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More on HIV in Other South American Countries

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Outsmarting HIV: A Survivor's Perspective


Nelson Vergel is a chemical engineer who has become a leading advocate for sports nutrition, supplementation and the promotion of wellness in the HIV-positive community since his positive diagnosis in 1986. He is also the author of "Testosterone: A Man's Guide" and co-author of the book "Built to Survive"; the founder of the nonprofit organizations Body Positive Wellness Clinic and Program for Wellness Restoration; the Nutrition and Exercise forum expert at TheBody.com; and a bilingual speaker on lipodystrophy, wasting, exercise, nutrition, testosterone replacement, metabolic disorders, HIV medication side effect management and HIV salvage therapy. Nelson also moderates PozHealth, one of the largest HIV health discussion listservs online.


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