By Pola Del Giudice, Maria F. Rodriguez, and Pedro Izzo
Beatriz and her husband traveled along with their three months baby from Merida, in the Venezuelan Andes, to Cucuta’s city in Colombia. After six hours on the road trip, they got to Ureña in Tachira state, the first step from parents that desperate, looking at how to vaccinate their children.
From that step, they must go through the international bridge Francisco de Paula Santander that separates them from Colombia and their long-awaited goal: the vaccination tent of the World Health Organization.
In Merida, like the rest of Venezuela, there are not all the vaccines that children need. The few ones that parents can find are from India and don’t count on the approval from the WHO. Andres’s pediatrician warned that to Beatriz and her husband. In that city, the baby could only get a vaccine: the one called BCG to prevent tuberculosis.
From the soccer field in Ureña begins the daily road of thousand of Venezuelans to cross the border to Colombia through the international bridge Santander. That’s one of the three border crossings among Tachira and Colombia.
“There are four hours from Merida to Puerto Santander -another border crossing- but there is not a vaccination tent in that border, you must travel to another town. That’s why we took the way to Ureña, cause the vaccination tent is just over the bridge,” Beatriz said.
The other border crossing between Tachira and Colombia connects the towns Saint Antonio del Tachira to La Parada from Colombia through the International Bridge Simon Bolivar, the most used crossing border. “I don’t recommend that border crossing, there is no vaccination tent around, is too crowded and there’s a lot of Venezuelan people in indigence,” Beatriz tells about her experience to go back to her home.
The long wait
Although they arrive at 7:30 am to the WHO vaccination tent, baby Andres was the number 26 in the line. “They told us that we must wait just in case a vaccine left because they only have twenty-five doses per day. We wait until 1:00 pm, but we have not lucky. We must go back the next day.” Beatriz explained, so her advice, get earlier.
There are more vaccination tents from WHO and other organizations that support Venezuelans in the Colombia border, but Beatriz decided to get back to the same place. She didn’t want to take risks on that first travel whit her baby.
Either on the way to Colombia or when they got back to their home, the couple never found any Venezuelan authorities that asked about the birth certificate or another document to prove that Andres is, indeed, their baby.
Over a thousand kilometers for three vaccines
Katherine Lopez has a three months baby. She must return to Venezuela while she was still pregnant due to the precarious situation that she was living in Peru alongside her boyfriend.
“I came back to Venezuela because my family is here, and the situation was too difficult in Peru, but now I’m suffering because I have to cross the country to be able to vaccinate my baby.” She must to traveled to Cucuta to find the first dose to her son.
To get the BCG, she had to travel to Barquisimeto in Lare state, the only state that has vaccines available during the last trimester of 2019. “I went at least twenty times to Los Teques Hospital, the Social Service and all the outpatient and never a single dose arrive,” Katherine says after doing the maths about all the expensive to travel from Lo Teques – central zonal of Venezuela- to Cucuta.
“I went at least twenty times to Los Teques Hospital, the Social Service and all the outpatient and never a single dose arrive,”Katherin Lopez, a Venezuelan mother.
She spent less than 100 dollars. In a private center, she would have to invest 100 dollars for each vaccine that her baby needs according to the age scheme. “Even my husband earns that money in a month, and he is still living in Peru.”
From Guarico to El Arauca
The capital from Guarico state also lives a critical situation in the childhood health system. Although vaccines are important to protect children from deadly diseases, the public health centers in San Juan de Los Morros can’t provide them. They do not have vaccines.
Danny Donaire is the father from an eleven months girle. He told the odyssey alongside his wife to arrive at the Arauca department in Colombia, where he finally gets that his little girl receives all the vaccines for free.
“It took us eighteen hours of the trip, and three buses to arrive at the Arauca,” Danny said. He made that choice after finding out the prices of vaccines in private centers in San Juan de Los Morros. “In some places asks 150 dollars and didn’t want to receive bolivars.”
Fourteen years without yellow fever, twenty-five years without diphtheria, nine years with no measles cases, those were the years that Venezuela has lived without the appearance of these preventable diseases.
All of them are part of the National Imunitazion Plan approved by the WHO, according to Huniades Urbina, former president from the Venezuelan Pediatrician Society.
Experts proved that the appearance of these diseases in Venezuela is part of the age groups that don’t receive the vaccines. Urbina also said that government campaigns are not enough.
For example, it needs 17,3 million doses to diphtheria and tetanus, but the Health Ministry said that only 3.5 million are available. That means that 80% of susceptible people are unprotected.
Since 2017, members from the Venezuela Pediatrician Society denounced to the Health Ministry and Vice-presidency department the shortages of vaccines. Last two years, the Ministry refuses to receive the document from doctors.
This is a special report from El Pitazo. You can read the text complete here (Spanish version).