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How the illegal sale of cancer drugs works

For three months, a reporter of Armando.info followed the lead of a seller exclusively engaged in diverting oncology medicines from state institutions to the black market, where they can be sold at 300 times higher prices. Her motivation was some basic questions: Are they angels or opportunists? How do they organize their networks? Still with unresolved doubts, she finds that it is a trade that has become possible only in the aftermath of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, in the midst of chronic shortages and bureaucratic controls.

9/25/2016 12:24:59 PM

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It does not take many speculations to understand why someone would resort to the illegal market in a country with medicine shortages of around 86%, according to the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation. It is already becoming a common practice in Venezuela, hand in hand with the crisis.

However, few talk about it. Fear for doing something illegal and exposing the person who gives them a small dose of life —though often at the expense of denying that same dose to another patient— predominates.

Ana (a fictitious name to protect her identity) has been an oncology patient. When facing the disease, she faced the dilemma of submerging or not in the underground medicine market. She continues today with the maintenance cycles that the doctor prescribed, but the hardest phase of treatment has ended. You could say it is out of danger. "What they do with us is not human. Nobody should resell cancer drugs," she said in a first contact. A few months ago, she ran out of Avastin, a monoclonal antibody that is used in the treatment of different types of cancer, such as breast cancer. "I needed it. It is distressing being sick and topping it with worries. When they diagnose cancer, they tell you to avoid stress," she explains, face to face, in Maracaibo, the capital of the state of Zulia (northwest of Venezuela), where she lives. It was at the clinic there where she came into contact with the illegal drug market. Her treating doctor gave her a phone number. "He told me that I could get what I needed there. He had already talked with other bachaqueros [Editor’s Note: Spanish name given in Venezuela to black market traders] but they did not fulfill. I paid good money and I was left with nothing."