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Decision-making power has not existed for a long time in the migrant settlements on the Colombian border. Nobody chooses what to eat, when to shower or where to work. Here only serve the “what comes” and “when there is.” That is why, when Eviainix Paz, a 14-year-old Venezuelan, found out that she was pregnant, she thought: “If God gave it to me, I have to have it.” The lack of electricity and water in the 7×12 meter shack that he shares with six other relatives in La Gabarra (Colombia) did not prevent him from moving forward. However, these days he is considering crossing back to his country. There are barely two months until she gives birth and she has not had a single ultrasound, given her irregular condition. “There at least I can check that everything is going well with him,” says this girl with a sad face and tanned skin. Although she is still not sure of the child’s sex, she has the hunch that it will be a boy. “Jeremiah of Jesus,” he whispers.
Venezuelan pregnant women in Colombia: nine months of crossed fingers
The roles are well defined in the Paz family. They take care and they work. The men of this nucleus, like the great majority of the irregular migrant camp of Villa Camila, in the north-western town of La Gabarra, are dedicated to scraping the coca leaves. Barely 400,000 pesos a month enter this shack; “The good months.” Less than 100 euros. To get an ultrasound in Cúcuta, the capital of the department, would cost them about 350,000. According to estimates of Save the Children en Colombia, a fifth of pregnant women who cross the border are under 18 years of age.
Colombian public health covers prenatal consultations for women living in the country: Colombian or not. However, the medications and tests prescribed or requested are the responsibility of the pregnant woman. For the thousands of women who have crossed the border due to the Venezuelan crisis, there is no choice but to trust that everything goes well. This is what Yuletzi Ramírez, 23, did, mother of a baby less than two years old who was born two months earlier than expected. Early care treatments for premature children are in the capital and are not an option for her or for Elián Ismael, who rests in diapers on the neighbor’s bed while his mother sweeps the room. “With him I have to be more careful, I don’t want him to breathe dust,” he says. The conditions in which these children are born, also marked by violence and guerrillas, have been described as “terrible” by various international organizations.
Between 2009 and 2018, delivery care among migrants showed an increase of 2,253%, going from 164 to 3,859 births. This is how the report details Health inequalities of the Venezuelan migrant and refugee population in Colombia, prepared by Profamilia and Usaid. In 2019, 1,326 Venezuelan pregnant women used health services due to diagnoses associated with external maternal morbidity, that is, due to serious complications during or before delivery.
This is the case of Ramírez, who had a high-risk pregnancy. She was rushed to the hospital because she couldn’t afford to take her hypertension medications regularly. “Children grow up short for me,” she says under the watchful eye of her third child. The baby was born with an umbilical hernia, because the mother was in charge of carrying the water from one side of the settlement to the other. “The father worked and someone had to bring him,” he justifies.
“Life here complicates everything, doesn’t it?”
“At least there is light right now.”
Sitting on a wooden stool and determined to find some shade with her head, is María García, 30 years old, with a belly that leaves no room for doubt. “I get out of accounts in nothing,” she says tiredly. This will be the fifth child. But the nerves have nothing to do with the previous ones. “I only went to the control for the first two months,” he says. The health post in the village of La Gabarra demanded an ultrasound scan that they only perform at the Tibú Hospital, head of the municipality, three hours away by car. “I had no way to get there,” he says. The price of the test is 260,000 pesos. And to that we have to add the transfer, which does not go below 50,000. In total they are about 70 euros, which they do not have. They live with 160 a month.
They all seek consolation in what still belongs to them – the water well, aid from organizations, some electricity – and agree that returning to Venezuela is the last option.
The figures differ a lot if the nationality variable is added. According to data from DANE collected in the Profamilia report, in 2018 in Colombia 63% of pregnant women attended less than eight prenatal consultations. And 31.6% received between eight and 12. Only 3.8% received none. However, of the 8,209 Venezuelan pregnant women who arrived in the country in official records, 6,304 (76.8%) did not have access to any prenatal care. This is without counting those who do not even appear as migrants in the neighboring territory.
A couple of weeks ago, Garcia caught a urine infection that worried her. She discussed this with the leader of the Villa Camila settlement and, after receiving the medications through Doctors Without Borders, she asked for help. The president of the settlement paid for an ultrasound; “The first I had in eight months,” he laments. The good news is that she knows she will bring a male into the world: Marniel, like the father. The bitter smile of this mother is that of many. They all seek consolation in what still belongs to them – the water well, aid from organizations, some electricity – and they agree that returning to Venezuela is the last option.
“You don’t know how I miss my country,” says 33-year-old Keyla Urón with tears in her eyes. She carries her one-year-old baby at the Third Mountain, a migrant camp in Tibú. “She was a business owner there and had a very comfortable life,” she says. But the very serious Venezuelan crisis also ended his business. And its stability. Today he runs a little shop of refreshments in one of the sidewalks. The only two dozen cookies she sells wait on a table without a tablecloth, which serves as a counter. “I don’t know what life we are giving to our children here, who are sick and have no chance at anything,” he says. Getting pregnant here is more of a problem than a joy.
I do not know what life we are giving to our children here, who are sick and have no opportunity for anything
In the last three years that MSF has been in the field, they have cared for 768 pregnant women, of which 292 were minors. “Women who have money are tested by private clinics. Those who do not have it, do not do it, “criticizes Sulaith Auzaque, Catatumbo Project Coordinator of Doctors Without Borders, who also warns of the increase in pregnancies as a result of sexual assaults or as a result of some Venezuelans prostituting themselves as a last alternative.
As in any community, economic resources condition the quality of life. Keyla Verónica Martínez Campillo, 29 years old, gave birth to a 3,150 kilogram baby two weeks ago at the Tibú Hospital after a day of pain and contractions, accompanied by her relatives and with three ultrasound scans. Her case is that of privilege, although her house is surrounded by the sewage pipes of the September 12 settlement, she has no electricity or water and her constant concern is how much money her husband will bring from the coca crop. Uncertainty is also recorded in each of Eviainix Paz’s slow sighs. Those that save much more than the nerves of a new mother.