Updated
September 30th, 2019

‘Disease Knows No Boundaries’ - USA Helping Venezuala Refugees

Venezuela travel alerts issued by CDC and State Department

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The United States is working with Latin American governments to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases from Venezuela refugees, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said to Reuters on October 2, 2018. 

HHS Secretary Azar said ‘it was important to effectively treat Venezuelan migrants before diseases like malaria, diphtheria, and measles spread through neighboring countries.’ 

“Disease knows no boundaries. Venezuelans fleeing to neighboring countries are bringing their health conditions with them,” Azar told Reuters ahead of a G20 meeting of health ministers. 

“We’re working with our health ministerial counterparts to ensure that these individuals are vaccinated because we, of course, don’t want measles to become endemic in the Western Hemisphere again.” 

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said Venezuela has reported 4,605 measles cases, including 62 deaths, as of September 23, 2018.   

During July 2017, Venezuela reported the 1st measles cases of this current outbreak and confirmed that this outbreak was due to a virus strain that was originally reported in Asia and later in Europe. 

To stop the further spread of measles throughout the region, the Director of PAHO, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, has urged all countries to rapidly increase vaccination coverage.

"It is vital that we continue vaccinating in order to reach more than 95% of our children everywhere," said Dr. Etienne in a press release.   

Previously, on August 19th, 2018, the US Department of Defense dispatched the hospital ship USNS Comfort to Colombia and possibly other South American countries to help people impacted by the ongoing Venezuela health crisis. 

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in Stars & Stripes, “We're not sending soldiers, we’re sending doctors on this humanitarian mission.” 

The USNS Comfort has 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, a 1,000-bed hospital facility, digital radiological services, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab, a CAT scan, and two oxygen-producing plants. 

“The exodus of Venezuelans is one of Latin America’s largest mass-population movements in history,” said the United Nations Health official William Spindler in a press release. 

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“Since the beginning of the year, an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country traveling to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil.’

To prepare USA citizens prior to visiting Venezuela, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Travel Alert Level 3 on May 17th. 

This Level 3 Alert means USA citizens should avoid visiting Venezuela. 

This CDC alert says Venezuela is experiencing outbreaks of infectious diseases, and adequate health care is currently not available in most of the country.

Which means if you must travel to Venezuela, take pre-trip protections, such as vaccinations. 

The CDC recommends all travelers to Venezuela be up to date on all recommended vaccines, such as the DTaP and MMR vaccines. 

The CDC says to make an appointment with a travel vaccine specialist at least 4 to 6 weeks before departure to enable the immunization process to be completed. 

Travel vaccine specialists can be contacted at Vax-Before-Travel. And, the CDC recommends all travelers take medicine to prevent malaria with them on the trip. 

Separately, the US State Department issued a Level 3 Travel Alert on May 29th.

Additionally, the State Department suggests enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.