Plunging oil prices mean Venezuelan women are running out of birth control

A couple sits in a park next to a mural of late Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez in Caracas on March 9, 2014.
A couple sits in a park next to a mural of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez in Caracas on March 9, 2014. 
Jorge Silva

The collapse in global oil prices isn’t just affecting stock markets, business bottom lines and economic growth rates.

It’s also having a serious impact on the sex lives and health of many Venezuelans.

Shortages of basic goods such as milk, rice, corn and diapers have been a problem for years in the South American country. That's partly because of state price controls on products, a heavy reliance on imports — a lack of funds to pay for them — and failed land reforms that involved the redistribution of farming land.  

Contraceptives, including birth control pills and condoms, are also on the growing list of hard-to-get items. Only one-tenth of the normal volume of contraceptives used by Venezuelans was available last year, El Pais reported earlier this month, citing the head of the country's pharmaceutical federation. 

The situation has only worsened as the price Venezuela receives for its crude oil — the source of 95 percent of the foreign currency earnings it uses to pay for imports — plunges along with other international oils owing to a global oversupply and economic growth concerns. 

More from GlobalPost: The lowest oil prices since 2003, explained

The widespread scarcity of food and other goods has fueled triple-digit inflation and triggered outbreaks of violence and looting.

Venezuelan women looking for birth control pills have turned to social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which have become informal markets where women trade contraceptive pills they don't need, El Nacional reported Thursday.

"It's getting harder and harder to find them. You have to go from pharmacy to pharmacy," a woman told the Venezuelan newspaper.

Experts have been warning of the potentially devastating consequences of the contraceptive shortage in a country that already has one of the highest rates of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy in the region.

“Without condoms we can’t do anything,” Jhonatan Rodriguez, general director at the non-governmental health organization StopVIH, told Bloomberg last year. 

“This shortage threatens all the prevention programs we have been working on across the country.”

Apart from exposing more people to HIV and other sexually transmitted disease, the lack of contraception could also lead to more pregnant women seeking illegal — and potentially dangerous — abortions.

It will also result in more girls leaving school and young women quitting their jobs, Carlos Cabrera, vice president of the local affiliate of London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation, told Bloomberg.

In desperation, some Venezuelans go online to buy contraceptives, but it can be prohibitively expensive

But it’s not just condoms and birth control pills that are being affected.

Over the past year there have been reports of shortages of antiretroviral drugs, which help prevent HIV from turning into full-blown AIDS.

Now, even testing for the disease isn't possible due to the lack of necessary materials, Rodriguez told El Universal.

Venezuela's economic crisis could turn into a health disaster.