Venezuelans travel to border for vaccinations as Colombia works to prevent outbreak

By Andrew Wight

ARAUCA, Colombia — Venezuelan Fiorelli Onda, 19, crossed the bridge last week that separates Colombia and Venezuela near the Colombian town of Arauca to vaccinate her 2-month-old infant daughter Duglannis Onda — because the Venezuelan health system can’t provide even this most basic service.

Even though measles was eliminated in the Americas in 2016, travelers from areas where the virus still spreads can and do carry it across borders. Brazil and Venezuela are among 12 countries in the Americas with measles outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization. Brazil has had more than 10,000 cases and Venezuela has had more than 9,000. While two doses of measles vaccine provides 95 percent protection, the virus spreads rapidly in unvaccinated or undervaccinated populations.

“The health system in Venezuela collapsed and like we saw in Syria, that leads to an outbreak of transmissible diseases, not just vector-borne, but also measles and sexually transmitted diseases,” said Dr. Alvaro Acosta Serrano, a Venezuelan researcher and senior lecturer at the UK’s Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. “In the case of Venezuela, there’s mismanagement, corruption and the unwillingness of the government to act.”