• June 22nd, 2024
  • Saturday, 11:24:38 PM

Providing Help During a Challenging Crisis

A University of Miami (UM) doctor and alumna with intimate knowledge of the health care crisis spilling out of Venezuela are working to build a partnership with a nonprofit agency to provide medical care and supplies to migrants in dire need of aid.

Dr. Hermes Florez, division chief of the epidemiology in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Miller School of Medicine, and his former student, Dr. Denisse Pareja, are working with Chicago-based medical nonprofit MedGlobal, Inc. to organize a series of missions to send supplies and medical care to Colombia. This coordinated effort will be focused on the Venezuelan migrants pouring into Colombia daily, who often arrive with debilitating health conditions.

“The situation is very difficult, and basic health care services are not being provided [in Venezuela],” Florez said. “The whole population has experienced weight loss in the neighborhood of 20 pounds, and getting food and medications is a problem.”

Since 2015, an estimated 3 million people have emigrated from Venezuela, and the majority has fled to Colombia. Even as international pressure is mounting on embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to accept humanitarian aid, he has refused to open Venezuela’s borders to any donations. Florez is hopeful that someday they can actually provide aid directly to Venezuela, yet because of the current restrictions, MedGlobal is focusing on assistance in Colombia.

Florez, a Venezuelan native, has a keen awareness of the humanitarian crisis facing his country. He is regularly in touch with two former Venezuelan ministers of health who currently teach at medical schools in Venezuela and collect data on the nation’s health care system. This led Florez to offer a report to U.S. lawmakers and health care experts last summer in Washington D.C. detailing the most extreme health challenges for Venezuelan migrants. At a follow-up meeting, Florez met Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of MedGlobal and in December, MedGlobal chairman Dr. John Kahler visited Miami to explore a collaboration agreement with UM.

“Hopefully, we can move the needle to support the country, and health and education are two areas where UM can help Venezuela,” Florez said.

Recently, Pareja, who works as a research assistant for Florez, spent three days in Colombia with MedGlobal representatives to begin planning their first medical mission trip. She spent much of her time in the city of Cúcuta, known as the epicenter of the migration crisis. In Cúcuta, there are three bridges where Venezuelan migrants enter Colombia by foot, and Pareja visited the Simon Bolivar bridge, where an estimated 35,000 migrants walk into the country each day. Since the bridge is so popular, health care groups like the Red Cross, among others, have set up clinics in shipping containers adjacent to the bridge. Patients line up at the clinics as soon as they enter the country.

Florez said the partnership with MedGlobal may provide a chance for UM students in public health, nursing, and medicine to gain hands-on experience with a health care crisis, while providing needed assistance to the migrants.

“The idea is that in the near future our students can go [to Colombia] for their capstone projects, and with the proper safeguards, be deployed there to offer health care initiatives on vaccination, as well as education on basic nutrition and dietary habits,” Florez said. “Things that are basic to prevent major outbreaks and to enhance their perspective as public health students.”