Health and Social Services in La Guajira are at a Breaking Point

Informal settlement in La Guajira © HelpAge International

The barren and overcrowded conditions of La Guajira on the Venezuela/Colombian border are a potential death trap for the thousands of Venezuelan migrants living in temporary shelters in fear for their lives because of COVID-19 and the lockdown.

We are hugely concerned about COVID-19 breaking out in La Guajira. The health services are already buckling under the strain caused by the large numbers of people living in desperate circumstances. If COVID-19 takes hold, it will be chaos and potentially lead to colossal loss of lives.

Marcela Bustamante, Regional Representative for HelpAge in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

395 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in La Guajira and there have been 18 deaths, but this is in a context where testing facilities are hugely limited. There are fears that the pandemic will spread easily in the area where people live in inadequate and crowded conditions with an acute lack of water and sanitation facilities. There are nearly 5,000 older migrants that reside within La Guajira. According to a survey of the region – carried out by HelpAge in January 2020 – 84% of them have no handwashing facilities and 78% have no access to safe drinking water. This has not improved since the outbreak of COVID and created serious obstacles to protecting a population at risk from the virus. 

Joaquin lays in a hammock as he wears a white mask.
Joaquin Maparino © HelpAge International

Joaquin Maparino, 69, is suffering from nose bleeds and needs an operation His son used to use his proceeds as a market trader to bring him food but has now stopped as the market is closed. Joaquin feels desperate as he cannot afford the operation he desperately needs and is, instead, taking a natural medicine as a sedative to ease the pain.

I was planning to return to Venezuela, but now I can’t even move from here because everything is closed, including the border.

Joaquin  Maparino

HelpAge International Joined forces with Humanity and Inclusion and Pastoral Social to support more than 7,000 people in informal settlements in La Guajira, including the elderly, disabled, and indigenous people from the Wayu tribe. This area typically receives very little or no support from humanitarian agencies but the Start Fund funded this project to provide clean water, water storage tanks, and hygiene items. 112 families from migrant and host communities were also supported with unconditional and unrestricted cash transfers, prioritizing older and disabled people and those with chronic diseases. This project furthermore provided psychosocial support for older people, as well as education and awareness on COVID-19 through radio programs in Spanish and Wayunaiki which were accessible in the more remote areas.

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