Roraima, 20 March 2023 – In Roraima, northern Brazil, a medical vehicle moves down a bumpy road, raising a cloud of dust. It is one of the Mobile Health Units of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that helps bring medical assistance to Venezuelan indigenous people and their host communities in one of Brazil's hardest-to-reach areas.
The state of Roraima is the main gateway from Venezuela into Brazil for those leaving the country's ongoing economic and social crisis. Many of the more than 400,000 Venezuelans who currently live in Brazil entered the country via the northern State.
"Many people can find a doctor close to where they live, but for thousands living in rural communities, health care is hours away," says Maria Chan, IOM doctor, at the end of a long day of consultations. To tackle this, IOM has decided to get medical staff on the move, travelling to the doorstep of those in need. "Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable populations. These services change the lives of people with chronic diseases in remote communities; it eases their lives."
The mobile units are fully equipped to provide Venezuelan migrants, including refugees, and their host communities with much-needed health care, including essential treatment and medicines once a month. Two IOM Mobile Health Units are reaching the region's most vulnerable populations and training community health agents to provide primary care to rural patients.
Indigenous communities in the region may suffer from several chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, children's malnutrition, fungal skin infections, parasites, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
A health initiative that saves lives
In a small room in an open school in Sakao Motá, an indigenous remote village hosting locals and Venezuelans, people wait in the sweltering heat for the doctor to call them for their medical evaluation.
Katiuska Fernandez, 31, sits quietly with her eight-year-old son. She is six months pregnant. "The nearest hospital is one hour away by car from here, and we have no money to pay for a taxi or other means of transportation," she says as she waits for her regular maternity check. "I am so glad everything is fine. This health care is changing our lives."
In 2018, a shortage of food and medicines, plus growing insecurity pushed Katiuska and her five-member family to leave their small Venezuelan community across the border. They sold their belongings and crossed the boundary with several other Taurepang families. Since then, the subsistence farming practiced in the host community has helped them to survive.
Last year, the IOM health team provided medical and psychological consultations to about 8,000 vulnerable migrants, including refugees, and host communities across Roraima, an average of 30 people daily. Medical care included general assessments, testing for STIs, COVID-19 and blood glucose, pediatric medicine, and prenatal consultations.
Severely impacted by migration
Located in the São Marcos indigenous land – a tapestry of sun-scorched settlements home to the Tauperang people – Sakao Motá is one of the indigenous communities severely impacted by the flow of migrants, including refugees, from Venezuela, along with Ta'rau Parú, Par Bananal, and Sorocaima I communities, all located at the border between Brazil and Venezuela.
There are 160 Venezuelan indigenous people from the Taurepang group who currently live in Sakao Motá. Before the arrival of Venezuelans, the village had only 100 residents.
Despite the village farming resources being stretched, Venezuelans have been welcomed as part of the same indigenous group that shares linguistic origins and kinship ties.
Seated under a tamarind tree, Silvano Fernandez, a 55-year-old Brazilian indigenous man, recalls how his community opened its arms to Venezuelan brothers and sisters. "They are our relatives; we must welcome them because they are our people. Today it is them, but tomorrow it could be us."
Silvano is one of the medical unit's regular patients. He suffers from chronic pains caused by a car accident, which impedes him from leading a normal life.
Even if Katiuska's pregnancy-related health outcomes have improved as she receives regular checks from IOM's doctor, without a phone signal or access to a vehicle, she is ready to deliver at home when the time comes. "If I cannot get transportation to the nearest hospital, my baby will be born at home in the community like all my ancestors," she said after having received prenatal care.
This story was written by Gema Cortés, IOM Media and Communications Unit, Office of the Special Envoy for the Regional Response to the Venezuelan Situation.