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07.04.2022

Displacement and pandemic: the dual pressures on Colombia’s health systems

The coronavirus pandemic is putting health systems the world over to the test. Providing care for even more people than usual requires rapid adjustments to be made.

Recent years have seen Colombia take in almost two million people from Venezuela, equivalent to roughly four per cent of the host country’s total population. Many of these people live in temporary shelters close to the border. The situation here is already strained as a result of the pandemic, but the large number of Venezuelan refugees is creating an additional burden on hospital care.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is supporting local health care provision so as to benefit those living in refugee shelters as well as local residents. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ has been providing refugees and host communities with coronavirus tests and protective equipment since the start of the pandemic. These measures are cofinanced by the European Union (EU). GIZ is also working with other institutions in the German Epidemic Preparedness Team (SEEG) to train laboratory staff in how to use coronavirus tests.

More tests, better treatment methods

The joint work is having an impact. At the start of the pandemic, analyses of PCR tests could be carried out only in the capital Bogotá, and tested persons had to wait up to 20 days for their results. Now, three different laboratories are able to evaluate PCR tests in the regional capital of Cúcuta alone. Overall, GIZ has already provided 22 health care facilities with almost 160,000 rapid antigen tests, more than 150,000 PCR tests and 2,400 tests for determining variants.

Cúcuta’s largest hospital is also a key focal point for migrants. The help provided by GIZ here took the form of 25 ventilators, which enabled the COVID-19 ward to support nearly 2,000 people within six months. Victor Bautista Olarte works for the Colombian regional government on the ground as Border Secretary: ‘BMZ and GIZ have played a decisive role in supporting Colombia’s hospitals and in preparing them for the COVID-19 crisis,’ he says

This support will continue in 2022. For this year, the project has already supplied material for a further 500,000 PCR tests. These not only give reliable results but can also be sequenced in order to detect relevant new variants. This enables transmission chains to be broken more effectively – and outbreaks in hospitals to be contained, locally and ultimately globally.