Venezuelan opposition says Maduro government violated COVID response agreement

FILE PHOTO: Opening ceremony of the new court term in Caracas
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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's opposition accused President Nicolas Maduro's government on Friday of unilaterally changing the destination of medication and equipment provided by the Pan American Health Organization, in a "clear violation" of an agreement to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last June, Venezuela's health ministry and technical advisers to the then opposition-dominated National Assembly signed an agreement to implement a COVID-19 response supported by PAHO. By October, 340,000 antigen tests and 35 test-reading machines, managed by PAHO, had arrived in the country.

The ministry and technical advisers had agreed the tests and machines would be sent to 27 hospitals, Miguel Pizarro, designated by opposition leader Juan Guaido as representative to the United Nations, said in a statement.

But the government transferred the supplies to its own network of regional laboratories and other centers that Pizarro said in his statement were "not prepared for the care of patients with COVID-19."

With the equipment in public health laboratories, Pizarro said, the government now has "absolute control" over test results and the country's COVID-19 data.

Venezuela's information ministry and spokespeople for the Washington-based PAHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Only around 3,000, or about 1%, of the 3400,000 antigen tests sent to Venezuela have so far been used, Ciro Ugarte, director of health emergencies at PAHO, said on Tuesday while giving a regular weekly update on the pandemic.

Venezuelan authorities have reported 122,260 infections and 1,129 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Experts say the real number is likely higher, due to low levels of testing.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Daniel Wallis)