Venezuelans take part in a protest against the shortage of food in Caracas on December 28, 2017. As Venezuelans protest in Caracas demanding the government's promised pork -the main dish of the Christmas and New Year's dinner-, President Nicolas Maduro attributes the shortage to international sabotage. Federico Parra/GETTY

The cash-strapped government of Venezuela offered to trade gold, diamonds and coltan, a rare metal used in cell phones, to pharmaceutical companies the country owes $5 billion in exchange for medicine, according to the Wall Street Journal Thursday.

Venezuela’s health minister Luis López offered several pharmaceutical companies the goods as an alternative payment for medicine to help stock the bare shelves of the country’s hospitals. Venezuela is $5 billion in arrears to pharmaceutical companies. Tito López who heads, Venezuela’s Pharmaceutical Industry Chamber told the paper that up to 95 percent of medicines available in the country three years ago are no longer there.

“It’s better than nothing,” one pharmaceutical executive familiar with the Dec. 12 meeting with López told the Wall Street Journal. Two others said regulators in their home countries would have to approve any such deal.

“I don’t think the Venezuelans understand the mechanisms and compliance issues at hand,” one of them told that Wall Street Journal about the highly unusual offer.

It’s unclear whether any pharmaceutical company accepted the offer.

The attempt at bartering for medicine showcased the dismal economic situation in Venezuela that could be up to $150 billion in debt. Financial mismanagement and a drop in oil prices, a commodity the country relied on, have led to the humanitarian crisis the country now finds itself in. The country also faces U.S. financial sanctions because of the country’s restrictive communist government which the U.S. has called corrupt.

“We will maintain our vigorous efforts to sanction Venezuelan government officials who are complicit in President [Nicolás ] Maduro’s attempts to undermine democracy, violate human rights, inhibit the freedom of expression or peaceful assembly, or engage in public corruption, unless they break from Maduro’s dictatorial regime,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a November statement following a new round of sanctions targeting government officials.

Like medicine, food in the country is scarce. While the country attempts to barter with pharma companies, its citizens barter in the streets. Venezuelan currency lost 97 percent of its value last year, and some experts told the Miami Herald that inflation in the country could reach as high as 30,000 percent this year.

Maduro had continued to print money in a country that lacks cash to operate. Facebook and WhatsApp groups have sprouted to facilitate bartering amongst citizens in the country, according to the Wall Street Journal, and some groups have gotten up to 10,000 members.​