MedGlobal‌ ‌Calls‌ ‌For‌ ‌Urgent‌ ‌COVID-19‌ ‌Response‌ ‌for‌ ‌Refugees‌ ‌and‌ ‌Displaced‌ ‌Persons‌

MedGlobal‌ ‌Calls‌ ‌For‌ ‌Urgent‌ ‌COVID-19‌ ‌Response‌ ‌for‌ ‌Refugees‌ ‌and‌ ‌Displaced‌ ‌Persons‌

March 20, 2020

In the midst of the deadly global COVID-19 pandemic, MedGlobal urges immediate and urgent action to support refugees, displaced persons, and the most vulnerable communities. MedGlobal warns of the potential for a catastrophic impact of the dangerous virus on refugees and other vulnerable communities, and commits itself to adapting programs in the most effective ways to meet their needs. 

“While the global health community and countries are busy with curbing the spread of COVID-19, let us not forget the refugees and the displaced,” said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, President and Co-founder of MedGlobal. “It is our humanitarian duty, and the right thing to do, to prevent catastrophic morbidity and mortality in a population that is unable to deal with the pandemic effectively.”

There are over 70 million refugees and forcibly displaced persons in the world. They will be the hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many are confined to cramped environments like overcrowded camps or communities in urban areas where disease can rapidly spread. The majority do not have access to basic preventive measures like clean water, soap, cleaning solutions, sufficient sanitation facilities, or the ability to social distance or self-isolate. Refugees and displaced persons are made even more vulnerable by the lack of access to testing, limited access to sufficient medical care like Intensive Care Units in case they contract COVID-19, and damaged or destroyed health infrastructure as a result of conflict. These conditions could easily facilitate the rapid spread of COVID-19, with a mortality rate predicted to be much higher than the general population. 

MedGlobal provides free healthcare and life-saving medication to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, displaced Venezuelan in Colombia, and refugees in Greece, in addition to local communities in Pakistan and victims of wars in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Gaza. These communities are bracing for a catastrophic COVID-19 outbreak. 

The MedGlobal team is acting with urgency to support brave frontline health workers and vulnerable communities during this COVID-19 pandemic. To date, our team has taken the following steps to adapt our operations and respond to COVID-19:

  1. Emergency Needs Assessments: We are working with our teams and partners in Bangladesh, Colombia, Greece, Pakistan, Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria to compile emergency needs assessments to understand the current situation locally and respond in the most effective way for each setting. 
  2. Emergency Supplies and Triage Programs: Based on local needs, we are ramping up provision of medical supplies to support local health workers and communities, including soap, washing units, personal hygiene kits, and cleaning solutions; medications, ventilators, oxygen masks, and medical technology for Intensive Care Units; Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) including masks, gowns, gloves and eye shields. With top experts around the world, we are developing emergency triage programs in preparation for potential COVID-19 outbreaks. 
  3. New Prevention Measures for our Clinics: Our full-time clinics in Bangladesh and Colombia continue to function, with new infection control and prevention measures implemented in coordination with partners. 
  4. Clinical Resources: We are designing resources pertaining to COVID-19 tailored specifically to our field operations, including recommendations on infection control and prevention based on CDC, WHO and UNHCR data; clinical management of suspected cases; and emergency planning in the case of an outbreak.
  5. Educational Online Programs: We are planning webinars and educational programs for the general public, which aim to present the potential impact COVID-19 may have on refugee communities. Our first webinar on COVID-19 is Tuesday, March 24 from 9am-11am CST. 
  6. Mental Health Response: We are designing a mental health plan in the context of COVID-19, including a webinar for all staff wellbeing on coping with the COVID-19 threat and a webinar for field staff on how to support patients’ mental health during the pandemic.

MedGlobal will continue to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized, primarily communities of refugees, displaced persons, and others facing crises. We will continue to work with brave health workers across the globe to ensure that we are able to reach and support these communities, who must not be forgotten during this global pandemic. 

Join us in supporting health workers on the front lines, helping vulnerable communities preparing for COVID-19 outbreaks.


This Christmas, make a gift of health care to Venezuelan refugees

The Venezuelan refugee exodus is the worst humanitarian crisis in the southern hemisphere, second only to the Syrian catastrophe. Fifteen percent of the population – around 3.5 million people – have left the country, and it is estimated that another million or more will leave in 2020 in order to escape starvation, lack of healthcare, disease, and violence. Those crossing the border are malnourished, sick, and in desperate need.

MedGlobal has been at ground zero in Cucuta, Colombia, since April 2019 working to save lives. In 2020, with your support, MedGlobal will be able to continue its primary care services, expand its partnerships, and save more lives.

Yesmith Garay, the director of our clinic, has a warmth and management style that makes everything happen. She is assisted by Camila Perez, a superstar nurse, who runs the clinic like a well-oiled machine. Camila is compassionate and oversees more than 100 patients coming through the clinic every day. There are multiple staff members, including a dental hygienist, administrative assistants, and several Colombian doctors. 

MedGlobal medical volunteers Dr. Ahmad Yousaf and Dr. Farashin Silevany traveled from the United States to treat refugees like Maria and her children, Leonel and Gelyanys, who fled Venezuela to escape starvation.

At our clinic, we are treating over 600 patients a week and we need your help to continue providing life-saving care.

This Christmas, give the gift of health care to Venezuelan refugees

  • $20 to provide prenatal care to an expectant mother. Support prenatal care for 10 mothers by donating $200.
  • $10 to provide health care to a child. Help 10 children by donating $100.
  • $10 to provide life-saving medication for one patient. Help 10 patients by donating $100.

Your generous donation will help save the lives of Venezuelan refugees. Make a difference today.


MedGlobal Volunteer Opportunities: Clinic serving Venezuelan refugees in Colombia in need of volunteers for 2020

Marked by political repression, hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, the crisis in Venezuela continues, unabated after five years of conflict. Once the richest country in the region, Venezuela is now teetering on total collapse. 

The ongoing humanitarian crisis is the largest ever seen in Latin America and, after the Syrian crisis, is the largest in the world. It is estimated that 15% of the population has already left and another one million, or more, are expected to leave in 2020. 

The majority of Venezuelans begin their exodus into Colombia, where MedGlobal’s clinic has been operating in Cucuta, Norte Santander since April 2019. This area is ground zero for the Venezuelan exodus. 

We have established the major first encounter primary care clinic for refugees in the region. We also serve itinerant populations of caminantes (walkers) and recent arrivals at various comedors (soup kitchens).

Our clinic is looking for primary care volunteers, including specialists in family practice, pediatrics, internists, and gynecologists, to begin in February 2020. One week is the minimum stay, however, longer is preferred. Although fluency in the Spanish language is a benefit, it is not necessary.

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact [email protected]. If you have any questions about the deployment you can contact Dr. John Kahler at [email protected].

Reflections on the Venezuelan migrant crisis and my work with MedGlobal

By Allison Walton, MD. 
All photos taken by Dr. Walton. 

The Venezuelan migrant crisis is ultimately a tale of corruption, greed, and shortsightedness, but also of compassion, advocacy, and worldwide self-reflection that has sprouted in response – and that I am hopeful will sprout anywhere in the world when we witness a humanitarian crisis. I’ve just returned home from volunteering in Cucuta, Colombia, with MedGlobal. 

The Venezuelan infrastructure and government have completely collapsed. This once-prosperous nation now has few to no public services, jobs, food, medications, and no paper. The annual inflation rate was 1,300,000% as of last winter. The Venezuelan currency is almost worthless, in fact, people are making bills into art, such as earrings, purses, wallets, and used as a canvas for paintings, and sold for the equivalent of 5-20 US dollars. 

Thousands of Venezuelan dollars woven into a change purse. 

There is a critical food shortage and widespread malnutrition, with the average Venezuelan adult having lost 20 pounds in the past several years. As you might imagine, the nutritional crisis for children and infants is even more devastating and often fatal. Maternal and child mortality have jumped by 50-75% in the past few years. 

The Venezuelan medical system used to be one of the best in Latin America. Over the past several years, many hospitals have shut their doors completely and pharmacies have no medications to stock and instead fill their shelves with water bottles. One-half of Venezuelan physicians have left the country so far. Vaccine-preventable diseases, which were believed to be eradicated 5 years ago, are resurging, including measles and diphtheria. The incidence of other infectious and communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis A, and HIV have also jumped dramatically.

One of my translators in Cucuta explained that when his young daughter was born in Venezuela. He was given a list of supplies to obtain and he had to go purchase everything for prior to the delivery of his daughter. Everything from IV fluids, antibiotics, medications, gauze, surgical gloves, and obstetrical surgical tools, everything had to be bought by the individual and brought to the hospital. Fortunately, he was able to obtain most of the supplies, and his wife and daughter are doing well. Unfortunately, not all Venezuelans are able to get the medical care and supplies they need, and about one-third of people admitted to Venezuelan public hospitals will die there. 

There is literally no paper in Venezuela – one patient showed me a prescription from home, written on a random scrap of paper and stamped with the Venezuelan physician’s name. 

Prescription from Venezuela written on scrap paper, given to Dr. Walton by a patient. 

About one-fourth of Venezuela’s population have fled these dire conditions, making their way into neighboring South American nations, most of them heading to Colombia. The Colombian social services and health care systems were strained already, and now with the enormous influx of Venezuelans – many of them children, infants, and young women – the Colombian healthcare system is cracking. 

MedGlobal’s local staff in Cucuta made it a point to help me learn about the background of the Venezuelan crisis and showed me a lot of the public health data collected. They also introduced me to various social services and partner NGO’s. We spent half a day visiting the Puente Simon Bolivar, and the border zone on the Colombian side. Approximately 25,000 people cross the bridge every day, though many ultimately return to Venezuela, entering Colombia to purchase food and medications to bring back to their home country. 

Migrants walking back and forth to Colombia on Puente Simon Bolivar. 

The local Catholic diocese established a shelter and food kitchen, where about 4,000 migrants per day get a hot meal. There are several other organizations that have established medical and some social/legal services, including the UNHCR and Red Cross.

People awaiting services at the border zone just inside Colombia. 
Photo:  Entrance to a medical and social services facility in the border zone. 

MedGlobal has partnered with IPS Medcare de Colombia S.A.S., a public/free clinic staffed by a Colombian physician from 6am – 11am, and then a different Colombian physician from 11am – 6pm. Both of the physicians working there right now are just out of medical school and I’m told that this is somewhat like their residency, part of a required 2-year public service prior to going into any specialty. 

MedGlobal physicians have their own exam room within the Medcare clinic, and a patient panel to see each day. My patients were mostly pediatrics and referrals from emergency rooms or other clinics, where there was no medication to treat their condition. Many patients told me about going to an emergency room in Colombia and being told this is not an emergency and sent away, or getting a handful of tests and inadequate treatments, and they were coming to us hoping to get more answers and in need of treatment. 

The Medcare clinic has a formulary list of medications we can prescribe, and the patients can pick up those medications at no cost from a nearby pharmacy. We also do have a list of laboratory studies we can order, which will be drawn at the clinic in the early mornings, each day. With the MedGlobal/Medcare clinical practice relationship beginning only two months ago, there are growing pains and improvements to be made and the medical record system is undergoing changes. MedGlobal is also hoping to establish another clinic site within the border zone. 

Beyond the medications, we can prescribe and list of laboratory studies we can order within the current MedGlobal/Medcare/Colombian government’s practice agreement, there isn’t much more we can do at this time. We are not able to perform any procedures, including injections such as IV/IM steroids or antibiotics. There are no in-house imaging studies available. The MedGlobal and Medcare staff, nurses, and physicians are all doing everything we can with the limited resources we have. 

Patients had traveled from as far as the capital of Caracas, sometimes by foot, to try to get services here in Cucuta. The Colombian medical system wasn’t doing great beforehand and is now crushed under the influx of Venezuelans, including many children and pregnant women. 

I saw a young man who had pneumonia and sepsis. In the US, he certainly would have been admitted here and would have gotten 30cc/kg IV fluids and trended lactate levels, would have had imaging and supplemental oxygen and respiratory treatments, but all I could do was give him antibiotics and some education on pulmonary hygiene, and hope I treated him before he became critically ill. He already went to a local emergency room that morning and was sent here for the free antibiotics. 

I saw a teenage girl with horrible mastoiditis, after reporting a severe ear infection 2 years ago. There was purulence coming from her external auditory canal and a fistula with purulence above the pinna. She needed an ENT surgeon and possibly a neurosurgeon. She would have been admitted to hospital immediately as well, but here I had to prescribe her a very prolonged course of oral antibiotics and advise that her mother continue to try getting her seen at a hospital in Colombia, hoping she would finally be admitted. 

I saw a 2-month-old infant who was only 800g above his birth weight and looked like a tiny porcelain skeleton. He was critically dehydrated and malnourished and needed to be admitted to a hospital immediately. Even while I was telling the clinic staff that this infant is going to die, I knew there wasn’t much we could do. The head nurse at the clinic called a local hospital and asked them to help, and we sent them over – I don’t know what happened to him. 

Clinic exam room in Cucuta, Colombia, where Dr. Walton saw Venezuelan patients. 
Dr. Walton with two Venezuelan patients. 
Dr. Walton with Venezuelan pediatric patient and his family. 
Dr. Walton with a pediatric patient and her mother.

For most of its citizens, Venezuela was a prosperous, progressive, growing nation less than a decade ago. One of my adult patients was a nurse by training who is now homeless in Cucuta, and one was a structural engineer who now works at a sandwich shop in Cucuta and lives in a one-room apartment with two other families. They were living a normal middle-class life, just like many of you in the US, and they never imagined this would happen to them. 

One of many lessons I took away from my time in Cucuta, however, was that his can happen to any nation at any time. As we have been seeing in vivid colors recently, outrageous corruption among the people in power can and does happen anywhere, including in the US. Frighteningly, a familiar refrain has been coming from some in the Venezuelan government recently — that this is a “fake” crisis, and as such, they will not allow humanitarian aid into Venezuela. 

This is a very real crisis. Please, come and see it for yourself. Please educate yourself and others about how it happened.

And please do not close your eyes to the myriad other humanitarian crises ongoing in this world, several of which MedGlobal is helping with by actively sending personnel, supplies, and education.


Volunteering with MedGlobal renewed my commitment to helping refugees around the world

By Dr. Kyle Varner, MedGlobal Medical Volunteer

I had the great privilege of volunteering at the MedGlobal clinic in Cucuta, Colombia to provide medical care for Venezuelan refugees. It was the most meaningful work I have done in medicine, by far. This clinic is unique among humanitarian projects in its continuous presence. Local physicians operate there as permanent staff so that patients can receive ongoing follow-up care.

My presence as an Internist meant that I could provide consultations, create a plan of care that local doctors would implement, and feel confident that my patients had the necessary support.  

The cases I saw in the clinic were shocking. I had never seen a case of parasites in real life but I saw many during my time in Cucuta. I saw diseases that advanced in ways one seldom sees in the United States. The opportunity to provide care to patients who desperately needed it was personally gratifying.

One case stood out to me in particular. A 77-year-old blind man from Caracas got sick, and couldn’t find any medical care in Caracas. He and his wife sold all of their belongings and got on a bus. They only had enough money for a one-way ticket. They had no money in their pockets and they slept on the street outside of our clinic. When I saw the man, he was in rough shape. Thankfully, I was able to treat his condition. We were also able to connect him and his wife to other humanitarian organizations that provided them with a place to stay and food to eat. 

Their lives are still shattered, as are the lives of most of the one million refugees in Cucuta. But we made a difference for him and his wife. They are suffering less, thanks to our work. It makes me proud to have played a role in making a difference.

MedGlobal is a great organization that is providing meaningful humanitarian relief all over the world while easing the suffering of people. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to work with MedGlobal, and I look forward to continuing to support MedGlobal’s efforts around the world. I will be back in Cucuta soon! 

Working in medicine can be demoralizing. While working long shifts at a hospital in the United States, you know that if you quit, they can just hire some “other guy.” But in MedGlobal’s medical relief, there is no “other guy.” We either step up and help our fellow human beings, or nobody does. I am committed to helping refugees all over the world. There is no better feeling than making a difference for someone who needs it.

Venezuelans are suffering terribly. I was aware of this before embarking on my mission in Cucuta but seeing it with my own eyes brought me to a new level of understanding. When I see a refugee, I see myself if I were born in a different place. They are human beings just like me, with hopes and dreams, families and friends. Thank you, MedGlobal, for allowing me to make a difference.


“Mom, are we eating today?” A story from Cucuta, Colombia

Patricia is a 28-year-old mother and Venezuelan migrant. She is a woman that never loses sight of faith, even given her difficult situation. She has two children; 7-year-old baby and 4-year-old Luis. Luis is charismatic, curious, and he is intelligent enough to understand that something is happening when he witnesses tears running down his mother’s face.

Patricia remembers getting sick and her daughter getting diagnosed with gastroenteritis. Hospitals in Venezuela provided initial support, such as intravenous fluids for hydration, however, the staff told her “they could not do more.” She witnessed children dying in the hospital and, with her daughter being ill, she did not have any doubts about her decision to migrate to Colombia.

She asked her ex-husband to come with her but he refused to leave his country even though he was currently unemployed. Crying, she remembered asking her former mother-in-law for money for bus tickets. She gathered her children, took a bag of clothes, some food for the trip, and left her fear behind. She had courage, inspired by her children, to embark on a trip to Colombia.

She learned about MedGlobal’s clinic in Colombia through a Catholic non-profit. She expressed gratitude to MedGlobal for providing dignified care to her and her family. 

She currently lives in a small room in El Salado, Cucuta where she spends time with her baby and son, Luis. A curious Luis asked the physician, “how is my mom, sir?” Followed by a heartbreaking, “are we eating today?” The question left all of us perplexed during the interview.

This is the reality that Patricia, her family, and many others face when migrating to Colombia.

Please donate to send dignified care to Venezuelan migrants in Colombia.


MedGlobal establishes clinic in Colombia to serve influx of Venezuelan Migrants

MedGlobal recently established a clinic in Cucuta, Colombia to serve Venezuelan migrants, in partnership with IPS Medcare Colombia S.A.S. To date, MedGlobal has seen over 3,500 patients at this clinic, the majority of which are women and children. In conjunction with Project Hope, MedGlobal also supports a maternal-child nutrition program in Venezuela.

According to the United Nations, 4 million Venezuelans have fled the country, making it the second-largest migration worldwide after Syria. Colombia currently hosts 1.4 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees. As the crisis in Venezuela continues, the UNHCR anticipates another 1 million refugees will leave the country, a majority of which will enter Colombia’s largest entry point in the border city of Cucuta in Norte Santander. 

“Irrespective of how and when the current political situation resolves itself, we will be on the ground to serve the displaced and needy,” says Dr. John Kahler, MedGlobal Co-founder and Chairman.

As Colombia keeps its borders open and provides services to refugees, their systems are overburdened by the influx of migrants. There are an estimated 2,000 Venezuelans living with HIV in Colombia today, two-thirds of those under the age of 35. MedGlobal, in partnership with UIC, recently published a white paper calling for greater involvement of non-governmental organizations to address the HIV crisis among Venezuelan refugees living in Colombia.

*IPS: Institucion Prestadora de Servicio – Service Provider Institution 


MedGlobal calls for volunteers as new UNHCR report shows staggering Venezuelan migration


Spanish version below

A new UNHCR report shows that migration has jumped from 695,000 in 2015 to 4 million in mid-2019. Colombia currently hosts 1,298,300 Venezuelan migrants and the number is predicted to increase due to the re-opening of international bridges between Venezuela and Colombia, like Simon Bolivar Bridge, Francisco de Paula Santander, and Puerto Santander, all located at the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

By June 9, 25,295 Venezuelan refugees and migrants entered Colombia and 3,000 had their passport stamps processed in the Centro Nacional Fronterizo (CENAF) in the Cucuta Municipality, next to the Simon Bolivar Bridge.

MedGlobal set up operations in Colombia providing much-needed support to Venezuelan economic refugees. There is an urgent need for Primary Care Physicians, especially Obstetrics and Gynecology, Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Emergency Medicine, and Pediatrics, to volunteer for our Medical Mission in Cucuta, Colombia. Please reach out to [email protected] for more information.

Source: R4V, Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela


MedGlobal hace un llamado a sus voluntarios, luego de que un nuevo reporte de ACNUR muestre la sorprendente migracion Venezolana

Un nuevo reporte de ACNUR muestra que la migración de Venezolanos a Colombia a aumentado de 695,000 en el 2015 a 4 millones a mediados del 2019. Colombia actualmente acoge a 1,298,300 migrantes Venezolanos y se espera un incremento en este numero después de la reapertura de los pasos fronterizos entre los dos países desde Junio 8, 2019, tales como los puentes internacionales: Simon Bolivar, Francisco de Paula Santander, y Puerto Santander.

Para Junio 10, 2019, 25,295 migrantes y refugiados Venezolanos cruzaron la frontera hacia Colombia, solo en el fin de semana, y 3,000 de ellos sellaron su pasaporte en el Centro Nacional Fronterizo (CENAF), a las afueras del Puente Internacional Simon Bolivar, en la municipalidad de Cúcuta.

MedGlobal tiene actualmente un programa de atención medica en Colombia para brindar la muy necesitada ayuda a los refugiados económicos Venezolanos. Hay una necesidad urgente de médicos en atención primaria sobre todo especialistas en: Obstetricia y Ginecología, Medicina Interna, Medicina Familiar, Medicina de Emergencia, y Pediatría. Para participar en nuestra misión medica en Cucuta, Colombia, por favor contacta a [email protected] para mayor información.

American Red Cross recognizes a MedGlobal Hero

By Denisse Pareja

Last Wednesday, May 1st, 2019, our Co-Founder and current Chairman, Dr. John Kahler was honored as 2019 American Red Cross Disaster Services Hero. To learn that one of our members received such a recognition, is an inspiration to all of us!

Receiving such award, reflects the humanitarian work Dr. Kahler have done through these years.

As a pediatrician in Chicago, Dr. Kahler has dedicated his professional life in providing healthcare services to children. Since 2013, learning the effects of the chemical attacks in Ghouta, Syria, his perspective on humanitarian aid changed. He felt the need to help abroad and travelled to Greece to provide his services to refugees.   

Continue with his commitment to help the most in need, Dr. Kahler’s work in humanitarian crisis is unique. He has been in different missions in different countries around the globe, such as Jordan, Lebanon, Greece, Haiti, Mexico, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Tanzania, and Honduras.

While in Greece, he met Dr. Zaher Sahloul and since then, MedGlobal concept came to live. MedGlobal was co-founded in 2017. Both agreed that MedGlobal’s core value is to serve to a world without healthcare disparities.

His commitment to keep MedGlobal’s core value reflects when provides healthcare services to patients who live in areas of humanitarian crisis. Through MedGlobal, he has done so in several countries such as Yemen, Lebanon, Greece, and Colombia.

As he truly believes in eliminating health disparities, he currently serves as the Chairman of MedGlobal. As a Chairman, he works in MedGlobal to continue to expand its core value and continue to provide healthcare services to the most in need on a bigger scale. Just in 2018, MedGlobal has provided services in 11 countries such as Lebanon, Bangladesh, Greece, Sierra Leone, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, USA, Mexico, and Colombia.

Moved by the Venezuelan migration crisis, he travelled to the Colombian Caribbean region and to Cucuta, the Colombian border city, to learn more about the healthcare needs of Venezuelan migrants. He was impressed to learn diseases who are usually covered on a basic healthcare system, such as prenatal care or infectious diseases are prevalent on this population. Diseases reported by the Colombian Ministry of Health are previously eradicated diseases, malnutrition in children, and AIDS cases.

Learning the complex Venezuelan situation, he knows the impact on healthcare is real and that Venezuelan migrants and refugees are in need of healthcare services. Continuing his commitment to this mission, he currently leads MedGlobal Medical Mission in Colombia and he just came back from inaugurating our program in Cucuta, Colombia on April 24, 2019.

Working with him at MedGlobal, we recognize his solidarity, dedication, and willingness to provide quality healthcare services to the most in need. Dr. Kahler is a true inspiration and we are very grateful to have him as part of MedGlobal leadership. #RedCrossHeroes #MedGlobalHeroes

Get to know Dr. Kahler, and read this short story from one of his trips to Lebanon:

“We were in a refugee camp in the Arsal region of Lebanon. It was the end of a very busy day. This is at the Syria-Lebanon border. A 10-year-old  girl, Nour, came in to see me by herself. Thru the translator, I found out that she had been at this camp for 5 years. Her family had escaped Homs. Her mom and grandparents came but her dad was still in Syria and they hadn’t heard from him in a long time. Her eye had been burned by her uncle in their tent a couple of days before we arrived, and it still hurt. My examination was normal but because we had an eye doctor with us, I brought her to the other tent which was perhaps 200 meters away. On our way to that tent, there was a scuffle going on between several boys and Nour put her hand in mine as we walked. Luckily, her eye was fine and as we walked back, she again put her hand in mine for safety as we walked. When we returned to my clinical area I asked her if she would like me to come with her to her tent and talk to her mother about her eye. She said that she could do it on her own. She reminded me of one of my granddaughters and I asked her if we could take a picture together. When we stood to have it taken, she leaned her head against my arm. For some reason, this simple intimacy touched me, and I teared up. When she turned to leave, she looked at me and saw those tears. With all the empathy a 10 year could muster she said, “don’t worry, it will be alright.”. The patient taking care of the caregiver. This is resilience and large “H” hope. The Hope of Faith, Hope and Charity. This child was one who will lead someday. May Allah (peace be upon Him) guard her always.”

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.