Venezuelan Crisis: How To Help
Thousands of displaced Venezuelans are pouring across the border with Colombia each day, escaping extreme food and medicine shortages and exponential inflation. Project HOPE is on the ground in Colombia to support the country's strained health care system. Get the facts about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and learn more about how to help.
What You Need to Know
May 31, 2019: Project HOPE’s head of public engagement visits the district hospital in the border city of Cúcuta and shares what she is seeing
In a recent visit to the Erasmo Meoz University Hospital, Christine Bragale, our head of public engagement, was told the hospital is at “alerta amarilla” (yellow alert), meaning they are near capacity and only taking emergency patients. A Project HOPE nurse then shared her tracking document, showing the high percentage of Venezuelan patients. On this given day, only four of 30 pregnant women she saw were Colombian.
March 5, 2019: Project HOPE is at the border treating patients
Four Project HOPE doctors treated 179 patients with injuries as a result of violence at the border at the end of February — violence that saw the destruction of humanitarian aid shipments destined to vulnerable Venezuelans. Project HOPE doctors provided surge capacity support to screening centers at the border in response to a request from the Colombian health authorities.
Since December 17, 2018, Project HOPE medical doctors have been providing staff surge support and essential medicines at two Jorge Cristo Sahiums health outposts. Doctors are reporting that main health issues continue to be respiratory tract infections, diarrhea-related disease, gender-based violence cases and skin diseases caused by lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
As additional street protests are being planned, Project HOPE is concerned about mounting casualties resulting from clashes between the government of Venezuela and protesters. The lack of medicines, medical supplies and health-care personnel to handle those casualties could render the situation even worse.
Project HOPE calls on all parties not to politicize humanitarian assistance and requests that all civilians have unhindered access to humanitarian aid. As an international aid organization, Project HOPE remains neutral and is committed to providing humanitarian assistance based only on need.
February 6, 2019: Crisis in Venezuela escalates; humanitarian relief imperative
Political uncertainty in Venezuela is contributing to the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian disaster in years. Venezuelans are running out of food and have no means to buy more. Hospitals often lack medicines and basic supplies and we are seeing increasingly alarming reports of malnutrition among the children of Venezuela.
As political instability in Venezuela grows, we at Project HOPE believe people caught in the middle must have unhindered access to humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian aid must not be politicized. It should be available to every individual in need, regardless of where they reside or their political affiliations. Providing humanitarian assistance is not promoting a political view. It is an ethical and moral imperative and a privilege we share as humans. We must uphold the basic human rights and dignity of our sisters and brothers and meet the emergency needs of any human struggling in dire circumstances.
Venezuelans should have safe and uninhibited access to humanitarian aid immediately.
Project HOPE is a humanitarian organization with no political or religious affiliations. Our focus is on saving lives and relieving suffering. Please support Project HOPE’s relief efforts for the people of Venezuela.
A report from the field, Dr. Atilio Rivera-Vasquez shares what he is seeing
Dr. Rivera-Vasquez joined the Project HOPE Colombia team in November 2018, and has been on the ground working as our Colombia team lead and health technical expert, directly overseeing health sector activities. He reports that conditions such as malaria and dengue – not seen in Colombia in years – have made a resurgence because people are sleeping outside with no nets or blankets. The lack of clean water and sanitation has also caused diarrhea-related diseases to spread. Measles, skin diseases and respiratory tract infections from the lack of shelter during the rainy season are also becoming more common.
Women and girls are the most at risk as maternal deaths increase due to complicated pregnancies and lack of antenatal (pre-natal) care, anemia controls or resource for Caesarean sections. Major concerns also include rises in sexual exploitation, gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV. Health facilities are already struggling to meet the needs of drastically increasing patient populations and there is a widespread lack of training among health providers in GBV case management and clinical management of rape. This puts these survivors at a higher risk of neglect, abuse and disease.
“There is a surge in the number of children with measles – and subsequently severe malnutrition. Measles can lead to death when left untreated. I’ve seen this in the Congo, but I haven’t seen it this bad since then.”
The Venezuelan people bear the burden of this economic and social collapse with access to basic services and protection becoming increasingly limited. Project HOPE is well-positioned to provide solutions and is actively working in border towns in Colombia to support the health needs of displaced Venezuelans.
“I have been in so many countries with refugees, but I’m astonished that this is happening in my own country,” says Dr. Rivera-Vasquez.
About the Venezuelan crisis
The conditions in Venezuela represent a fast-developing crisis. Deteriorating economic and political conditions in Venezuela over the last four years have caused severe shortages of food and medicine and overstretched the local health-care system. Today, it’s estimated that 7 million Venezuelans — a quarter of the total population — are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.1 This humanitarian disaster has hit such critical levels that it has triggered a mass exodus of Venezuelans pouring across the borders of neighboring countries, including Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. As a result, the influx is straining communities and local health services in those countries.
So far, about 3.7 million people have fled Venezuela since 2014.
Already the largest exodus in Latin American history, some predict that more than 5 million people will have left Venezuela by the end of this year.
The political turmoil has made lives for many Venezuelans all but impossible. Soaring hyperinflation has made basic food and health care unaffordable. Every day, 3,000 to 5,000 Venezuelans, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists, have to pack up their belongings and flee their country as the economy collapses.2 Without even enough money to pay for a bus ticket, some Venezuelans have no choice but to walk along Colombia’s long highways through the mountains to destinations hundreds of miles away in Ecuador and Peru.
The crisis affecting Venezuela is the largest migration to affect the Americas in modern history..
Project HOPE is there
In September 2018, HOPE employee and registered nurse Teresa Narvaez traveled to Colombia and Ecuador to prepare for Project HOPE’s response to the Venezuelan crisis. While on the ground, she spoke with many Venezuelan families who made the difficult choice to leave their homes in search of a new future.
I met families grasping for hope and crying children who had endured long journeys on foot – some with no food – in extreme weather conditions.
Our Team is on the ground
Later that month, Project HOPE deployed an emergency response team to the border city of Cúcuta, Colombia, to address the dangerous health conditions that the worst humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere is causing. “Health care, food and nutrition assistance, vaccines and WASH [water, sanitation, and hygiene] support are among the most urgent humanitarian needs of Venezuelans, returnees and host communities in border regions,” said Chris Skopec, Project HOPE executive vice president, who is responsible for global health and disaster response programs. Our aim is to support and build up health services in the area, connect people with needed health-care services and improve access to medicines and doctors.
HOPE is supporting the Colombian health care system
Colombia has received the highest number of displaced Venezuelans. As a result, the health-care systems in many towns is particularly strained. Colombian authorities report the number of Venezuelan patients at hospitals in Cúcuta alone has increased by 60% or more.
Project HOPE is coordinating with Erasmo Meoz University Hospital, a major hospital in Cúcuta, Colombia, to provide surge support of Colombian medical practitioners while investigating additional opportunities for humanitarian assistance. This is the only district hospital and the only hospital around that serves Venezuelans and Colombian “returnees” who are uninsured, and medical staff are caring for increasingly large amounts of patients. The rooms are filled to maximum capacity and even the hallways are lined with beds to care for as many patients as possible.
“There will be a breaking point very soon…it is very evident that they are overstretched. In some hospitals, over 60% of patients are now from Venezuela.”
HOPE is working at health outposts near busy border crossing
Major hospitals and health outposts near the Simón Bolívar International Bridge, one of the most active border crossing points between Venezuela and Colombia, are being overwhelmed with the rapid influx of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in need of health services. For many, the health outposts are the first places people encounter health services; however, there is an increased shortage in the number of health personnel as the number of patients and demand for care continues to rise.
Project HOPE is coordinating the provision of four local general practitioners to provide health care through two of Jorge Cristo Sahium Hospital’s outposts in La Parada and Lomitas. HOPE’s doctors began seeing patients on December 17 and increased each health post’s capacity to see an additional 32 patients a day. This is significant because the outposts previously had no choice but to turn away 50 to 60 patients daily. By reducing the burden on staff at the health outposts, we are helping to minimize the corresponding strain on hospitals by minimizing referrals and the number of patients arriving via the emergency department.
Our team is continuously evaluating ongoing and developing needs
Project HOPE consultant in Colombia, Adib Fletcher, has met with health-care and government officials and is speaking with directors at the Erasmo Meoz Hospital to continuously evaluate and understand greatest needs. The hospital’s department of obstetrics and gynecology is overwhelmed as Colombia has become a destination for Venezuelan women seeking to give birth in a safe location with the support of a trained attendant. “Antenatal care has [all but] ceased in Venezuela. A large majority [of pregnant women entering Colombia from Venezuela] have not had antenatal checkups. Many are in their second or third trimester and haven’t gone through the type of regular checkups a woman would receive if the system was running properly,” says Adib.
According to the Colombian government, more than 8,000 pregnant Venezuelan women who crossed the border in 2018 were expected to give birth in Colombia, and most of these women had not received any prenatal care in Venezuela.5
“We saw one particular lady, I could tell she was probably between four to six months pregnant. She came out in tears, crying. 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.”
We are there. But we can’t do it alone. Your help is needed!
Please help meet the emergency health needs of Venezuelans families with your gift to our Venezuela crisis fund today.
What is happening in Venezuela?
Why are people leaving?
Can you imagine being forced to take only what you can carry and flee your country, only to then be faced with chaos in the streets, disease and food shortages?
An economic collapse
Venezuela is one of the most oil-rich countries in the world. For much of the last three decades, its oil wealth has allowed the country to flourish and spend heavily on behalf of its people. Unfortunately, as oil became the primary source of income for Venezuela, other industries suffered. The government borrowed heavily to pay for widespread social programs it could not afford, and Venezuela’s people became increasingly dependent on the government for subsidized food, water and medicine.
Then the price of oil began to collapse, dropping from $100 per barrel in 2014 to as low as $26 per barrel in 2016, and the Venezuelan government could no longer afford to pay back its large debts abroad or continue to pay into its large social programs.3
As funds ran short, Venezuelans began losing their jobs and sources of income. Importers no longer had the funds to import luxury goods and soon struggled to import basic necessities such as food. Electrical plants could not afford to keep running which led to widespread and lengthy blackouts in parts of the country.
Getting laid off at your job is a terrible feeling. Getting laid off when your company closes down can make it challenging to find a new job. What can you do when companies across your city, region and country are closing left and right because they can’t afford to stay open? What options do you have to find employment and where will your next meal come from when the little you have saved up is spent?
As the economic crisis enveloped Venezuela, the value of the Venezuelan Bolivar began to fall. By the end of 2018, the year-over-year inflation rate is expected to be as high as 1,000,000%. This means that if something cost just 1Bs at the beginning of 2018, by the end it would cost 10,000Bs. Suitcases have been used to carry enough money simply to buy groceries.
In August 2018, a chicken cost 14.6 million Bs. Using 1,000 bolivar notes, the paper money would weigh more than 32 pounds and could be stacked almost more than 4 feet high.4 For those who have held onto their jobs, their paychecks may not be worth enough to buy basic goods between the time they collect and spend them.
Some employers have even begun to pay their employees in tangible goods, such as eggs, instead of wasting time with bolivars.
What would you do if the money you had became worth less and less? How would you feed your family? How would you afford medical care?
No food, medicines or services to fulfill basic needs
As dependence on oil and food subsidies hurt the agricultural markets of Venezuela, many became dependent on imports of food. With Venezuelan money no longer holding its value, buying food abroad became increasingly difficult and food shortages quickly swept through the country. Food began to rot as indiscriminate rolling blackouts made refrigeration impossible. Starvation and malnutrition first gripped Venezuela’s most vulnerable citizens but soon spread to the middle class.
Doctors, knowing the value of their skills, began leaving Venezuela in large numbers to find employment abroad and potentially send money home. With the exodus of doctors, many hospitals have been left running at limited capacity. Some have needed to close whole departments.
Patients are increasingly forced to find the supplies needed to go through their own surgical treatments, such as syringes and scalpels.6 Without medical care, once controlled diseases, such as TB and AIDS, have begun to rapidly spread through the population, and giving birth has become an increasingly dangerous undertaking.
At the beginning of 2018, more than 22,000 doctors had already left Venezuela since the start of the crisis, leaving only one out of every 10 hospitals nationwide operating at full capacity.7 Many hospitals have needed to close whole departments as the shortage of doctors, nurses and medical technicians spreads. The health system is further plagued by growing shortages of medicines and medical supplies, spurring Venezuelans to flee the country in search of medical care.
Health workers have recorded a 50% increase of measles and diphtheria among the 1.2 million Venezuelans who have fled to Colombia.
How would your life change if you were unable to obtain basic food and health care?
Venezuela is one of the world’s most dangerous countries. Violence in Venezuela’s cities has been a common occurrence for years, but crime has increased as the situation has grown more desperate.
In 2017, it is estimated that 73 people died from violent deaths every day in Venezuela due to kidnappings, robberies or targeted assassinations.8 In parts of Caracas and other major cities, crime has prevented local police from protecting poor and at-risk populations. Criminal gangs in Venezuela’s barrios have become more aggressive as food, clean water and medicines have grown more scarce.
If you lived in Venezuela, would you stay to face this ever-growing crisis? Would you be willing to leave your home for an uncertain future?
The political turmoil has made life for many Venezuelans all but impossible. Soaring inflation has made basic food and health care affordable. Every day, 3,000 to 5,000 Venezuelans, including doctors, have had to pack up their belongings and flee their country in droves as the economy collapses.
A difficult decision
The dangers do not end at the border. Once across the border, Venezuelans are vulnerable to violence because of poor security conditions and still find it hard to find food, medicine and now shelter. Border cities like Cúcuta in Colombia have seen the highest rates of arriving Venezuelans and are now experiencing outbreaks of infectious diseases.
Humanitarian and medical personnel are assisting as best they can, but their efforts are hampered by severe shortages of equipment, supplies and health provider skills. The increase in demand has forced hospitals to leave patients in corridors as their capacity has peaked.
You can help!
The crisis in Venezuela is taking its toll on some of the world’s most vulnerable children, women and men. Take a moment to consider what it would be like if you had to drop everything and abandon everything you’ve ever known just to survive. What would it be like if you only had a moment to grab just what you need to flee violence, political turmoil, hyperinflation and shortages of the basic necessities of life? What would you decide to bring with you, and what would you leave behind?
There are ways to help Venezuela by making a gift to fund Project HOPE’s efforts toward humanitarian aid like the Venezuelan Crisis. We are acting fast to help families and children fleeing the crisis in Venezuela and we need your help.
Your generous gift will go directly to our Venezuela response 2019 fund to support our humanitarian efforts to the Venezuela crisis.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is located on the northern coast of South America. The capital and largest city is Caracas. It is a federal presidential republic of 23 states, the Capital District and offshore islands which are its federal dependencies. Within Latin America, Venezuela is one of the most urbanized countries with most of its inhabitants living in the north. Venezuela is also among the most oil-rich countries in the world.