Doctors slap down claim Chavez to die in 2 years

CARACAS (Reuters) - Physicians treating Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez disputed on Saturday claims made by a former doctor of the socialist leader that he would die within two years from his undisclosed cancer.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez talks to the media as he arrives at the La Fria airport in the state of Tachira October 20, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

In the first official public comments on Chavez’s health, three physicians dressed in laboratory coats at Venezuela’s main military hospital said Salvador Navarrete was uninformed and had just minimal contact with the leader a decade ago.

“The President, from the standpoint of cancer has been diagnosed and treated early. Subject to the appropriate follow-up treatments, the current status is quite satisfactory with an excellent prognosis,” Dr. Fidel Ramirez said in a televised midday press conference.

“Navarrete was not Chavez’s physician, a trusted party or his family,” Ramirez said, adding that Navarrete had no scientific evidence or understanding of Chavez’s condition.

Navarrete, in an open letter published by local media on Friday, said he has since fled the country, fearing for his safety after an interview published a week ago quoted him saying Chavez would be dead in two years.

Navarrete attended to Chavez a decade ago and claims he is in touch with some relatives and members of his medical team.

In his letter, Navarrete said the interview with Mexico’s Milenio Semanal magazine was intended to combat official secrecy over Chavez’s condition. He stood by his original prognosis of Chavez, which caused an uproar.

Chavez’s health is the all-consuming issue for the South American OPEC member nation of 29 million people, one year ahead of a presidential election where he wants to be re-elected.

Chavez, 57, returned on Thursday from Cuba where he has received cancer treatments, declaring himself cancer-free in an event that included an open-top caravan to a regional Catholic shrine where he prayed and gave thanks for his recovery.

The three doctors on Saturday still would not disclose the type of cancer Chavez has, four months after surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his pelvis. This was followed by four cycles of chemotherapy treatment.

Experts say it is possible for a patient to be considered cancer free at the time of testing if no cancer cells are found, but that typically no one is considered cured of the disease unless tests are negative for a number of years.

By common convention, oncologists say a person can be considered cured after two to five years of clean tests.

Dr. Earle Siso Garcia, director of the military hospital, disputed claims that Chavez was having kidney problems.

Navarrete mentioned again in his open letter Chavez has seen a psychiatrist. However, this claim was denied as well.

“The president never ever had psychiatric treatment. This is a total fallacy,” said Dr. Rafael Vargas.

Editing by Vicki Allen