MedGlobal Colombia Medical Mission

By Denisse Pareja

It finally began! Our first Medical Mission to Colombia just started last week in Cucuta (video of the launch)!  Almost ten months ago, we kicked off planning for this mission and we are proud to announce we are the first international non-profit organization to provide specialty healthcare services to Venezuelan Migrants and underserved Colombians.

We want to recognize our team Dr. Hermes Florez and Alexandra Winkler for their continuous work on this project since its initial phase. We are grateful to them and to Argentinian Cascos Blancos for their help in launching this operation.

Dr. John Kahler with patient.

Since the onset of the migration crisis, our co-founders, Dr. Zaher Sahloul and Dr. John Kahler, identified the similarities between Colombia and Syria. UNHCR reported 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees. In 2018, 3.4 million Venezuelans (more than 10% of the population) have fled the country, reported by the Organization of American States. Therefore, Venezuela is the second largest migration worldwide after Syria. So far, Colombia is reported to host 1.3 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees.

Former CRUE (Centro Regulador de Urgencias y Emergencias – Regulator Center for Urgencies and Emergencies) Director, Dr. Eusebio Gonzalez, provided us with a background about the impact of the migration in Cucuta. We became aware of the already weakened healthcare system, and their struggle to provide healthcare assistance to the migrant population. The issue with the Venezuelan migrant population in Colombia is complex and in our approach, we considered two key points:

1) The collapsed Venezuelan healthcare system, and along with the social and economic crisis of the country resulted in Venezuelan migrants arriving into Colombia with a variety of healthcare conditions that require healthcare services, debilitating local healthcare systems.

Births to Venezuelan migrants in Colombia increased from 649 in 2017 to 3,048 in 2018. The first 2019 Epidemiological Report, reported 29 cases of low birth weight, 18 cases of congenital Syphilis, 61 cases of Gestational Syphilis, and 21 cases of perinatal and late neonatal mortality. Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS mortality cases in 2019 are 14 and 27 respectively. There are 251 imported cases of measles in Colombia by far in 2019. These conditions are evidence of the collapsing healthcare system in Venezuela with lack of preventive programs and a potential public health threat for hosting communities.

2) Migrants with illegal status in Colombia are not part of the Colombian healthcare system and therefore they can only get healthcare services in cases of emergency. Colombia’s healthcare system is based on insurance affiliation, according to each person’s economic status, and requires a legal status to be included. Unfortunately, it is common that Venezuelan migrants arrive into Colombia through illegal points of entry, as Venezuela and Colombia share a 2,219 km border, with almost 200 identified illegal routes.

The program to register Venezuelans in Colombia is RAMV program (Registro Administrativo de Migrantes Venezolanos- Administrative Registry of Venezuelan Migrants). RAMV reported  819,034 Venezuelan migrants and of them, 442,462 have illegal status, therefore are not included in the Colombian Healthcare System. This situation prevents them to access the healthcare services they are desperately in need of.

We met with the Colombian Ministry of Health and Social Protection, to better understand the needs of the region. Our visit to the Colombian Caribbean region, showed the problem was beyond the border regions. Prenatal control, pediatrics and infectious disease were the top priorities. However, we evidenced that Cucuta, the epicenter city of the migration, continued to face several challenges despite the help received by multiple organizations.

Colombian Ministry of Health has done a remarkable job in providing healthcare services to Venezuelan migrants to the extent of their capacity. For example, in Norte de Santander Department, the healthcare system expenses that correspond to the migrant population are only 10% of the overall debt of the Department. However, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection would only cover $716,651.84 of the total $10,794,641.31 million of public hospital expenses for the migrant population in 2018.  

Dr. John Kahler with MedGlobal and Medcare partners in Columbia.

Colombia Ministry of Health and Social Protection along with other international organizations are providing primary care services to the migrant population. The current gap is now evident in specialty care. Lack of funding is a vast limitation and opens a door of opportunities to organizations such as MedGlobal. Top healthcare priorities continue to be high-risk pregnancies, non-communicable chronic diseases and HIV. MedGlobal’s aim for this mission is to fill this gap. We aim to provide specialty care healthcare services focusing on: Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Pediatrics.

Our local partner is Medcare, a private outpatient clinic network. We are currently working at the Comuneros location, a neighborhood known to have migrant settlements in Cucuta. We also plan to develop short term surgical missions for General Surgery and Obstetrics and Gynecology. We aim to serve more than 80,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees. Through providing these services, MedGlobal is playing a key role in supporting the migration in Colombia; as first responder organization, we are a partner to help ease the burden to the Colombian Healthcare System. We launched our operations, and we are committed to providing our services for the time we are needed, and we have the vision to continue to expand to other underserved regions in Colombia. Join us on this journey by volunteering with us! Please donate to this program and help us expand the services we provide in Colombia.