Colombia: doctors dispatched to forgotten villages

Friday, February 03, 2012 • by Tommy Ramm

As a long and trying 2011 came to a close – a year in which floods that had ravaged Colombia produced a string of health and socioeconomic problems – a teacher in the northeastern Ayapel district of Córdoba broadcast some much welcome news: a brigade of health workers was arriving for the first time in 15 years. ACT Alliance, working on the ground through its member organisation Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, sent health brigades to 50 villages across Córdoba between August and December last year.

On one of many day trips made by the health brigades, two doctors, two nurses and a psychologist set up an improvised clinic in a hut in the village of Los Nidos.

Like their neighbours in surrounding villages, residents of Los Nidos live in temporary shelter or cram into small houses with families of five or more. People often share living areas with domestic animals, lack basic food and are exposed to mosquitos and other bugs. Access to clean water supplies are limited and poor hygiene abounds: the river is both the source of drinking water and place for washing.

When anyone is sick – and even minor illnesses or accidents can quickly become fatal here – people must make the several-hour trek to the town of Ayapel, the capital of Córdoba Department. For most people, the costs of this journey are prohibitive.

In an intense day that ran well into the night, the small group of ACT health workers in Los Nidos treated more than 300 patients. Many patients suffered from stomach bugs resulting from poor hygiene and malnutrition; others endured fungal infections on their skin caused by the damp conditions following months of heavy flooding. Patients with more serious conditions were sent to Ayapel hospital.

ACT health brigade coordinator Stella Flórez said they saw more than twice the number of patients expected that day alone. This high demand for medical care was seen time and again throughout their visits to 50 villages in the area. ACT’s goal was to treat 1,600 children ages seven and under, as well as pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

“But because there were so many people in need, we decided to treat almost everyone, regardless of their age. We simply couldn't refuse them,” Flórez concluded.