Venezuelans cross the border for care


As the Venezuelan economy self-destructs, locals travel across the border for medical care in Colombia.

Venezuela’s healthcare system is crumbling and generating medical refugees. While Colombia has no national figures, hospitals along the border are being swamped. This is not as good as it sounds, as many patients cannot afford to pay, while few hospitals have the spare capacity to treat more than a few extra patients.

On the border state of Norte de Santander, hospitals saw at least 5,000 Venezuelans in 2016 and expect double that in 2017. The vast majority have no way to pay for their care. In recent months, uninsured Venezuelans have created a debt of more than $1.2 million dollars in medical bills in this border state alone.

Under Colombian law, hospitals cannot turn away patients in life-or-death situations, regardless of where they are from. In theory they can turn away other patients but doctors and hospitals care more about treating the sick than worrying about who will pay-particularly for the large number of children.

Venezuela’s currency and revenue crisis has decimated a country where almost everything is imported. Shortages of food and other basic items sweep the nation, and most drugs and medicines are scarce. Many life-saving treatments are no longer available.

The large number of women and children from Venezuela could cause serious problems for Colombian healthcare. Many pregnant Venezuelan women have never had prenatal care, so cases of congenital HIV and syphilis, which were rare in Colombia, are increasing.

Colombian hospitals are robust enough to deal with short term increases in medical refugees, but not long term increases in numbers of patients who cannot pay.



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