Venezuela makes second COVAX payment for vaccines as UN official visits

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido (C) walks with healthcare workers and fellow opposition politicians during a protest to demand that all people get vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Caracas, Venezuela April 17, 2021. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/File Photo

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday the government has made a second payment to the World Health Organization's (WHO) COVAX initiative to access around 11 million COVID-19 vaccines.

Venezuela is in the grip of a second wave of the pandemic, which has strained its already underfunded health system. The country's economic collapse has led to rising food insecurity, and Maduro added the U.N. World Food Programme's (WFP) director, David Beasley, had arrived for meetings with officials.

The government last week said it had made an initial $64 million payment to COVAX for a first batch of vaccines, after complaining that U.S. economic sanctions aimed at ousting Maduro were blocking the payment. Maduro did not specify the amount of the second payment.

"The money is there. Now, the vaccines will come to Venezuela," Maduro said in a state television address.

Venezuela has so far received just 800,000 doses of Russian and Chinese vaccines for its population of around 30 million.

Humanitarian organizations have long advocated for the government to allow the WFP into the country, a step Maduro had resisted, to help relieve hunger. Maduro said Beasley was visiting to "sign agreements" but did not provide details. The WFP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Venezuela has reported about 180,000 coronavirus cases, including 1,800 deaths, though the opposition and doctors' organizations warn the true toll is likely higher due to a lack of testing.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas, writing by Luc Cohen; editing by Jane Wardell)

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