Every year on April 7th, the global community gathers to celebrate World Health Day. This celebration is an occasion to draw attention to pressing issues surrounding global health, and this year’s theme is “building a fairer, healthier world for everyone”.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues impacting our world and socio-economic inequalities are exacerbated, marginalized groups face unprecedented barriers in accessing information and healthcare services. Such is the case of the caminantes, Venezuelan migrants who walk thousands of miles to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru due to the complex humanitarian emergency that their country is going through.
The Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V) reports that, as of November 2020, there are more than 5,5 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the world. Of these, 1,043,460 are in Peru, 443,705 in Ecuador and 1,742,927 are in Colombia.
According to the 2020 Situation Report on the Venezuelan Refugee and Migrants Crisis of the Organization of American States (OAS), before the pandemic, 5,000 Venezuelans crossed the Colombia-Venezuela border each day. In spite of border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 500 caminantes still arrive in Colombia every day (OAS, 2020). Many of these migrants continue their journey to Peru, Ecuador, and even further south.
The continuous and large influx of migrants and refugees represents a significant challenge for the public health systems of receiving countries, which have been severely impacted by the pandemic. Moreover, caminantes often lack the required documentation and the knowledge of how the health systems of host countries work, which in turn alienates them from receiving the care they need.
Access to healthcare is extremely important for Venezuelan migrants, as they often arrive with untreated conditions due to the collapse of health services in their country. At AID FOR LIFE (AFL) and AID FOR AIDS (AFA), we believe that the only way to achieve a healthy society is by guaranteeing the wellbeing, quality of life and fundamental human rights for all, leaving no one behind.
That is why back in 2020, at the very beginning of the pandemic, we launched Tu Salud, a program aimed at ensuring the right to health of Venezuelan caminantes in Latin America. In partnership with several Community Based Organizations (CBOs), AFA Colombia has established a Care Route that goes all the way from the border between Venezuela and Colombia (Cucuta) to the border between Colombia and Ecuador (Ipiales), granting access to health, protection and social services to Venezuelan migrants and refugees. In the near future, this care route will be extended to cover the path taken by migrants in Peru and Ecuador as well.
The services that are offered are primarily destined to those with or at heightened risk of HIV, but they are accessible to all. These centers are located in the main transit towns along the route, and offer community outreach activities, access to treatment and prevention, primary and secondary medical consultations, comprehensive care management and psychosocial, legal and protection services.
Currently, AFA is also developing the Tu Salud TeleHealth platform, which will complement this project by offering information and remote healthcare services to thousands of beneficiaries, even as they move between cities during their journey to safety. This highly innovative approach will use digital tools to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of HIV, STIs, and other chronic health conditions, all while promoting integration by offering specialized and personalized care to migrants and refugees. The beneficiaries that do not have access to smart devices will still be able to access these services from the headquarters of our partner CBOs, which are distributed along the route. Ultimately, our aim is to roll out this platform across Latin America, so that more and more Venezuelans can access safe and reliable health services wherever they are.
On this World Health Day, we invite you to join us in our work to achieve a ‘fairer and healthier world for everyone’, including those who are most excluded or harder to reach.