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Colombia: Helping to fight yellow fever

24-07-2003 News Release 03/85

The River Catatumbo region on the Venezuelan border has suffered greatly in recent years owing to the armed conflict. The humanitarian situation there is in a state of deepening crisis.

One particularly worrying factor is that State health services cannot readily enter this zone. They were therefore unable to follow up a yellow fever outbreak while it was still confined to a few cases; the result was an epidemic that has already claimed twelve lives.

On 11 and 12 July, the ICRC accompanied a medical team on a visit to the hamlet of Honduras, in Norte de Santander. The organization provided this service both in response to a request from the Colombian health ministry and the national institute of health, and to prevent the disease spreading still further. The tasks of this multidisciplinary team were to carry out an epidemiological study and to vaccinate people over the age of 12 months; they were able to take 74 samples for analysis and vaccinate 694 people from 18 sectors. The team consisted of five ICRC personnel, an epidemiologist from the national institute of health and three members of staff from the local hospital.

As cases of yellow fever had also occurred in the department of Cesar, in the north-west of the country, a further vaccination campaign took place between 16 and 20 July. An ICRC team and local health personnel visited various parts of the department, vaccinating 518 people and taking seven samples. This brought the total number of persons vaccinated to 1,212 and the total number of samples taken to 81.

To ensure that the medical team could enter this zone, the ICRC made security arrangements with all armed groups in the area.

As it is difficult for people in certain parts of the country to obtain basic health-care, the ICRC is running a number of programmes, with mobile health units offering primary health-care to people living in Urabá chocoano, the southern part of Bolivar department, Caquetá and Putumayo. The ICRC is also supporting local health services in various areas affected by the armed conflict and is building health centres as part of its rapid-impact projects.

    

 Further information:  

 Carlos Ríos, ICRC Bogotá, tel.: ++57 315 340 6140  

 Annick Bouvier, ICRC Geneva, tel.: ++41 22 730 2458