Venezuela Crisis Deepens: Thousands of Venezuelans Cross Colombian Border to Find HOPE
As the national economy crumbles, up to 4,000 Venezuelans are crossing the border into Colombia every day, often with only the possessions they can carry.
As the national economy crumbles, up to 4,000 Venezuelans are crossing the border into Colombia every day, often with only the possessions they can carry. Many are seeking medical care, including antibiotics for infections and obstetric treatment for the many displaced women who have received little or no health care throughout their pregnancies. But most of all, they’re looking for hope for a better life.
You can see the desperation, but at the same time, you can see hope.
Since 2015, over two million Venezuelans have fled the desperate conditions in their country, brought on by a collapsing economy that has created significant shortages of food, medical supplies, and healthcare. The International Monetary Fund estimates that Venezuela will reach a 1,000,000% inflation rate by the end of 2018.
The dire economic situation has made daily life in Venezuela unsustainable. Ninety-three percent of the country’s population cannot afford to buy food. Scarcely available household items like rice and toilet paper are being sold for hundreds of thousands of bolivar. Seeking a way out of the catastrophe, over one million Venezuelans have migrated into neighboring Colombia.
And while the Colombian government has allowed them to stay, the influx of Venezuelans is placing a strain on Colombia’s healthcare system) – and the burden is increasing by the day.
Fletcher is in the border city of Cucuta and has been meeting with healthcare and government officials in the capital as well. Speaking with directors at the Erasmo Meoz Hospital Cucuta – the only facility in the region providing tertiary and emergency services to Venezuelans – he has observed firsthand the stress placed on medical facilities, especially the Gynecology/Obstetrics department.
“The situation is dire. The system is incredibly overstretched,” he told us by phone. “The lead gynecologist was telling us that they typically have nine patients for every one nurse. Right now it is about 25 patients for one nurse. For physicians, especially in the emergency department, [the ratio] should typically be around one physician for every 25 patients. It’s pretty much over double that to about one for every 60.”
Since 2015, the hospital calculates that it has spent around $30 billion pesos caring for roughly 20,000 Venezuelan migrants – over $10 million in USD.
It has become the worst health care and humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere and compared to the refugee crises in Iraq and Syria. But for the Venezuelans themselves, who often travel hundreds of miles by foot to reach Colombia, crossing the border alone does not guarantee better circumstances.
“This is only a first point of entry…if they [Colombian facilities] do not have the resources, things become more dire as the days go on,” said Fletcher. In other cases, the extreme dearth of healthcare in their home country means not much can be done for displaced Venezuelans, even after reaching Colombia.
“We saw one particular lady, I could tell she was probably between four to six months pregnant. She came out in tears, crying. I didn’t know what was going on at first…they had told her that her baby had died. It was heartbreaking to see how devastated they were, and a lot of that has to do with the absolute lack of care available to them.”
Fletcher said it’s not uncommon for doctors at Erasmo Meoz to treat pregnant Venezuelan women in their third trimester who haven’t had even a simple checkup since their pregnancies began.
How Project HOPE is Responding
In late September, Project HOPE deployed an emergency response team to assess health needs in border regions and facilities in Cucuta. The Erasmo Meoz Hospital has specifically requested volunteer emergency physicians, general practitioners, registered nurses, and gynecologists. Project HOPE has also met with the Jose Cristo Sahium Municipal Hospital authorities and visited health posts along the border to better understand their needs and how to provide support.
On a national level, Project HOPE has spoken with the Colombian Ministry of Health (MoH) to discuss vaccines available to handle the surge in vaccination patients. The MOH has asked for the MMRII vaccine as well as Hepatitis A and varicella vaccines and HOPE is working with our corporate partners to address these needs.
With assistance from international health organizations and the support of local partners, Project HOPE is aiming to provide medical volunteers, medical supplies and services to as many displaced Venezuelans as possible during this time of national crisis. We are coordinating with the Erasmo Meoz Hospital to provide immediate surge support of Colombian medical practitioners, while we recruit international medical volunteers to contribute to patient care and training. We also plan to provide general practitioners for two health posts at La Parada and Santa Barbara near the Simon Bolivar International Border Crossing in collaboration with the Jorge Cristo Sahium Municipal Hospital.