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Children dying awaiting transplants and hospitals with no lights - Venezuela turmoil puts health service 'back 70 years'

We’re driving through the night-time streets of Venezuela's capital, Caracus – the most dangerous capital in the world.

But it’s only at this late hour that our guide judges it safe to see a place forbidden to foreign journalists.

We’ve come to a hospital in one of the city’s notorious barrios, a down-at-heel neighbourhood that was the bedrock of the rule of Hugo Chavas and his successor Nicolas Maduro.

Much of the hospital is in darkness. Credit: ITV News

And we’re here at the invitation of a doctor disgusted by what he sees at work every day – at what he believes is the betrayal of these people and his patients.

"People die who should live," he tells me.

"We don’t have even the most basic medicines."

The doctor is nervous.

He insists we stay for no longer than 30 minutes.

Diseases such as diphtheria have returned to Venezuela. Credit: ITV News

There are government informers everywhere.

"If we get caught, I will go to jail," he says.

Venuzuela’s rulers guard their hospitals from prying eyes for good reason.

Much of the hospital is in total darkness.

In the gloomy corridors we can see rusting beds.

The stench near the mortuary tells of frequent interruptions of power.

Pedro Garcia has spent the last 13 months in hospital waiting for an operation. Credit: ITV News

Pedro Garcia is 58-years-old and has spent the past 13 long and agonising months here.

"If they had treated my in the first days I would be fine," he says.

"But I feel I’ve been abandoned."

In the time he’s waited, his damaged leg has withered.

It’s noticeably shorter than the other.

Pedro Garcia has been waiting so long for an operation that his injured leg has withered. Credit: ITV News

"Twice they told me last week they were ready to operate. Then it was cancelled."

His plight is by no means the worst.

Across the city, on the streets outside the children’s hospital, a group of mothers are protesting.

Inside we meet Wilder. Eight-years-old and a patient in the renal unit for five months.

Wilder needs a transplant, but is unlikely to get one. Credit: ITV News

His mother, Emilce, tells me his dialysis sessions are often delayed or halted by power cuts.

Last week, another boy, his best friend on the ward, died.

"It’s desperate to see my son like this. Asking me, 'Please Mummy, don’t let me die too'," she says

"I ask God for strength, but there’s nothing I can do to help him."

Wilder needs a transplant, but he will wait in vain.

They haven’t performed that operation here since 2016.

Wilder's mother fears that her son will not get the transplant he desperately needs. Credit: ITV News

"Our health service has gone back 70 years," says Dr Huniades Urbina, who was sacked from his job at the children’s hospital, he says for speaking out against the impact of the polices of President Maduro.

"We used to have the best equipment. Now so many of our hospitals don’t even have drinking water.

"We were the first South American country to carry out organ transplants.

"We eradicated malaria, measles, diphtheria. Now they’re coming back. It’s heart-breaking."

Dr Huniades Urbina was sacked from his job after speaking out against President Maduro. Credit: ITV News

Medical aid is being stockpiled on the border in neighbouring Colombia – donated by the US with intentions as much political as humanitarian.

So far the Venezuelan authorities show no sign of allowing it in.

This is not a nation of beggars, says Maduro.

But Wilder’s mother has has a message for her President: "Put your pride aside and think of the children," she says.

"Think of my son."