Venezuelan migrants to get regional vaccination cards under 10-nation pact
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Venezuelan migrants will be provided with a regional vaccination card beginning in October, health officials from 10 countries agreed on Monday, in an effort to ensure they receive needed vaccines and are not given double doses.
More than 4 million Venezuelans have fled an economic and political crisis in their home country that has caused widespread shortages of food and medicine.
Health officials from the United States, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Canada, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Peru and Paraguay unanimously approved the measure in a meeting in the Colombian border city of Cucuta.
The vaccination card will "accompany migrants from the middle of October and have the support of international agencies for its printing, distribution and training for its use," Colombian Health Minister Juan Pablo Uribe told journalists.
"The unified card shows that our countries can work together," Uribe added.
The health officials, including U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, also agreed to prioritize efforts to reduce infection rates and treat malaria and HIV/AIDS, care for migrants with chronic conditions like diabetes and cancer, and help migrants in need of mental health care.
The officials visited a Cucuta hospital where more than 70% of births are to Venezuelan mothers, one of the bridges that marks the border between Colombia and Venezuela, and a migrant cafeteria run by the Catholic Church.
"Addressing the humanitarian crisis caused by the failed Maduro regime is a top humanitarian priority for President Trump and his administration," Azar said, referring to embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Azar said the U.S. government has given Latin American countries some $256 million in humanitarian and development aid in response to the crisis.
"All of these countries are working together with the Guaido government to prepare for the day when freedom comes to Venezuela," he added, referencing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by more than 50 countries as his country's legitimate leader.
Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume a rival presidency, saying Maduro's 2018 re-election was fraudulent. Maduro alleges that Guaido is a puppet of the United States.
Unlike its neighbors, Colombia has not put in place stringent immigration requirements for Venezuelan migrants, instead encouraging those who entered the country informally to register with authorities so they can access healthcare, school places and other social services.
Colombia is home to some 1.4 million Venezuelans. Hundreds of thousands of others reside in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Brazil and other countries.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Leslie Adler)