Relatives of transplant patients, chained outside Children's Hospital "Dr. JM de los Rios", protest for the shortage of medicines, in Caracas on Februry 20, 2018. The United Nations has released US$9.2 million for food, medicine and other help for Venezuelans through an emergency relief fund. (FEDERICO PARRA / AFP)
GENEVA — The United Nations has released US$9.2 million for food, medicine and other help for Venezuelans through an emergency relief fund, the first such assistance during the country's deepening political and economic crisis.
"It's really an expansion of the work we were already doing. And taking into account that the economic crisis is making it harder for families to give the support they need for their kids
UNICEF spokesman, New York
The move to unlock the Central Emergency Relief Fund for various UN agencies since mid-November marks a breakthrough because such UN emergency funding for a country generally requires the approval of its government.
President Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly denied that Venezuela needs outside aid, pinning blame for the country's woes on what he calls imperialist countries, like the United States and some European Union members plotting an invasion.
A once-wealthy oil-nation, Venezuela has been in the grips of an economic crisis for at least five years under two decades of socialist rule. Masses are migrating from the country, while millions staying behind struggle to afford scarce food and medicine.
The latest sum of UN funds, disbursed Monday, involves US$2.6 million for nutrition support for young children, pregnant women and lactating mothers.
Separately, the UN's International Children's Emergency Fund announced Monday that since August it's broadened existing programs, delivering 130 tons of medicines, health and nutrition supplies for 350,000 women and children. UNICEF has had a presence in Venezuela since 1991.
The supplies are being delivered in agreement with the government, the UN says, noting that nearly 12 percent of the population is undernourished.
UNICEF is pouring US$32 million into its programs in Venezuela, said Christopher Tidey, a New York-based UNICEF spokesman. That pays for 2.5 million doses of measles vaccines and antimalarial treatment for 150,000 children.
"It's really an expansion of the work we were already doing," Tidey said, "And taking into account that the economic crisis is making it harder for families to give the support they need for their kids."
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