The first shipment of Red Cross humanitarian aid arrived in crisis-wracked Venezuela on Tuesday following approval from President Nicolas Maduro’s government, the organisation confirmed. “This is a great step forward to support vulnerable people in the country!” tweeted Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The shipment included 24 tons of medical supplies and 14 power units to be distributed amongst eight hospitals and 30 outpatient clinics—half of them public—said Health Minister Carlos Alvarado.
Some 30 trucks moved the supplies from the Maiquetia airport to a Venezuelan Red Cross collection centre in Caracas, AFP journalists said.
Some 3,100 volunteers will take part in the distribution of the supplies that arrived from Panama.
Venezuela has suffered more than four years of recession marked by shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.
The United Nations says a quarter of its 30 million population is in urgent need of aid.
Last week, Maduro and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) came to an agreement to allow in the humanitarian aid.
Supplies destined for Venezuela’s long-suffering population formed the basis of a stand-off between Maduro and the speaker of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, who launched a direct challenge to the president’s authority in January.
Guaido has since been recognised by more than 50 countries, including the United States, as Venezuela’s interim president.
But despite a highly publicised campaign, he failed to force humanitarian aid stockpiled over the border in Colombia into the country after the military—which remains loyal to Maduro—blockaded a bridge crossing.
Maduro claimed the aid was nothing more than a smokescreen to cover a US-led invasion.
Guaido said the entry of aid was “recognition of the failure of the regime that until a few weeks ago was denying the existence of a humanitarian emergency.”
He said this shipment was merely “a sedative to contain the emergency.”
Francisco Valencia, president of the Coalition of Organizations for the Right to Health and Life, voiced concerns over whether or not the aid would help the “more than 300,000 people in Venezuela with a high risk condition.”
Public hospitals have struggled to treat patients due to shortages of antibiotics, bandages and respiratory equipment.
The government has been unable to import what the country needs due to a lack of liquidity, in part due to a sharp drop in its oil production—around a third of its level from 10 years ago—which accounts for 96 percent of its revenue, as well as US sanctions.