Portland, OR. Medical Teams International received a $350,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to increase access to life-saving primary healthcare services for 120,000 Venezuelan migrants living now in Santa Marta, Colombia. Bill and Melinda Gates, pictured in Bangladesh, have a stated foundation goal: “In high-burden communities, millions of women and newborns die during childbirth and the first month of life – the majority, due to preventable causes. We channel our resources to understand and address underlying risks to keep women and their children healthy.”

In Columbia, a Venezuelan migrant named Stefanie is one of many trying to raise young children. The mass migration to Columbia started because Venezuela’s economic and political crisis has now reached a state of hyperinflation due to chronic resource shortages and government corruption. (Photo credit: Sarah Rawlins)

“Mothers are dying unnecessarily without access to care,” said Martha Holley Newsome, Medical Teams International President and CEO. “As an organization, we are called to go where we are needed most. This generous grant from the Gates Foundation will allow us to do exactly this, by providing life-saving care to the most vulnerable Venezuelans in Colombia like children and pregnant women.”

Nearby, an elderly couple is struggling to care for their handicapped daughter.

“The scale of what is happening in Venezuela is considered to be the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today. Persons displaced from Venezuela represent more people than the combined number that have fled from South Sudan and Myanmar. The situation is dire — an estimated 60 percent of medical assistance has been lost, with recent indicators of maternal mortality at an increase of 65 percent.

Since the crisis began, more than four million people have left Venezuela. By the end of last year, access to affordable food and medical care was nearly impossible for millions of people.

“Venezuelans report that the collapse of the economy has led to them being unable to meet their own very basic needs such as food, water, and medicine,” said Medical Teams Humanitarian Advisor Rachel Rigby. “In Colombia, we’re seeing people arriving with nothing, having had to use what little resources they had to pay to illegally cross the border.”

While the government of Colombia has been welcoming to new Venezuelan arrivals, the need for medical care far surpasses the country’s ability to provide them with basic assistance. Medical Teams will support the Colombian government by providing care for Venezuelan migrants and vulnerable Colombians. The program is focused on caring for pregnant and lactating women and young children, as well as ensuring vulnerable communities have access to life-saving medical care.

In addition to strengthening the Colombian health system by supporting local primary health care facilities, this grant will also help implement a Community Health Worker program to train volunteers to create social health behavior changes within their communities, map and monitor vulnerable populations, and provide referrals to local health facilities.

“Without Medical Teams’ help, these women would not receive any prenatal care and would have to find a clinic to deliver their baby in, while in labor,” Rigby said. “Young children are suffering from preventable and treatable illnesses, so our community health work program alongside targeted care is allowing families to learn how to prevent disease.”

From Medical Teams International:

For 40 years, Medical Teams International has worked in more than 35 countries and currently operates in Bangladesh, Colombia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Tanzania, and Uganda, collaborating with more than 50 local partners globally. Medical Teams has executed more than 26 U.S. government international assistance grants and implemented projects with the United Nations High Commission of Refugees, U.S. State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, United Nations Children’s Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and others on a diverse range of health and nutrition interventions. Medical Teams strives to implement innovative and efficient health interventions that save lives and promote a caring world.

Founded in 1979, Medical Teams International provides life-saving medical care for people in crisis, such as survivors of natural disasters and refugees. We care for the whole person— physical, emotional, social and spiritual. Daring to love like Jesus, we serve all people—regardless of religion, nationality, sex or race. Because every person—no matter where they are or how desperate their situation—matters. Find Medical Teams International at medicalteams.org and on social media using @medicalteams.

For more information on Medical Teams and its work in Colombia, please visit  https://www.medicalteams.org/country/colombia/.