Darién Gap Humanitarian Response by MTI

Medical Teams International launches an innovative storefront and expands health care education and access to services in Colombia.

First published by Medical Teams International on March 18, 2024.

Migrants on the way to the Darién Gap.

Last year, more than half a million people in search of work, shelter, and a more hopeful future traveled on foot through the treacherous 60-mile stretch of jungle connecting Central and South America. Known as the Darién Gap, it is arguably one of the world’s most dangerous migration routes. Risks include exposure to disease, harsh terrain, criminal activity, and violence, especially against women.

In Colombia, Medical Teams International, a global health and humanitarian organization, is growing its current programs and responding to the health needs of families and individuals who have made the extremely difficult choice to attempt the crossing. This expansion is part of the organization’s goals to serve approximately 70,000 migrants and vulnerable Colombians this year with critically needed supplies, health care education, and access to health services. The people being served are in Barranquilla, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, Ciénaga, Santa Marta, and Tunja, where 2023 programs are being expanded, as well as in new programs in the cities of Cali, Apartado, Turbo, and Necoclí.

Darién Gap

For many migrants departing Turbo by boat to reach the entrance of the Darién Gap, Medical Teams is the last humanitarian support they encounter – receiving health education and health and hygiene supplies to promote positive health behaviors and outcomes. These services are provided through an innovative storefront on the wharf in Turbo that uses electronic vouchers.

The space is called “We are not alone,” which refers to a core value of Medical Teams’ work with displaced people globally. This unique store provides access to migrants in transit to “purchase” essential hygiene products they need as they traverse the Darién Gap – from women’s hygiene products and first aid to dental hygiene and products for babies.

Another focus area of this response is to provide psychosocial support to families who have decided to make the journey, having paid their way in advance. People who have chosen to cross are often struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression. Leaving their countries causes family complications, and not knowing how the journey will unfold can prove overwhelming emotionally.

“Our commitment to breaking barriers to health is critically needed, especially as the number of migrants in transit continues to grow and health systems in Colombia continue to be stretched to accommodate the needs of hundreds of thousands of people. The next year will be critical as the humanitarian situation continues to evolve in Colombia and the lives of tens of thousands are put at risk through dangerous journeys. We are committed to providing needed services and supplies, as well as strengthening the local health system.”

— Steve Cooke, Medical Teams Country Director in Colombia

Medical Teams has worked in Colombia since 2019, focusing on reducing barriers to health care access for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, especially for pregnant women, women of reproductive age, and children under five. The organization aims to reduce morbidity, mortality, and malnutrition rates and increase access to primary health care services, sexual and reproductive health, maternal, newborn, and child health, mental health, and non-communicable disease management. It contributes to sustainable and effective health access and improvement, while working to integrate migrants into the formal health system in Colombia.

About Medical Teams International

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. Learn more at medicalteams.org and on social media using @medicalteams.

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