"Never in my life had I seen so many hungry children." And that comment from a pediatrician in Venezuela crystallizes a disturbing investigative piece by the New York Times on how the nation's economic collapse is taking a devastating toll on kids. The newspaper tracked 21 public hospitals over five months and found that record numbers of kids are dying of starvation. The government blocks information on such stats, but doctors who were interviewed provided a sense of how the plight of children in the once-prosperous oil nation resembles that of kids in refugee camps. Doctors at just nine of the hospitals saw about 2,800 cases of child malnutrition last year, resulting in about 400 deaths. Across the nation, emergency rooms are overwhelmed by youngsters in similar straits, many of them babies who are too far gone to be saved.
The few stats that have dribbled out from the government also convey the problem. The mortality rate for children under 4 weeks old increased a hundredfold, from 0.02% in 2012 to more than 2% in 2015. And the Health Ministry website said that 11,446 kids under the age of 1 died in 2016, up 30% over the previous year. The latter stat drew international headlines before the government removed it and claimed the site had been hacked. The story recounts how infant formula is almost impossible to find, even in hospitals, and is too expensive when it does surface. It tells of desperate parents digging through restaurant dumpsters and of boys who join gangs on the violent streets because they feel they have a better chance of getting food that way than if they stay home. Read the full story, which includes haunting photographs.