Venezuela | COVID-19: Reaching the most vulnerable children
Providing all children and adolescents with access to essential services, health supplies, and education continuity is part of UNICEF's mission.
As soon as the quarantine started, the UNICEF team headed by the Head of Office looked at ways to continue critical services for children across the three field offices. From the onset, the goal of deploying field missions is clear: ensure the safety of staff and reach children and adolescents even in the most remote places to deliver much needed supplies and other items required to mitigate the outbreak of COVID-19.
Since day one of the lockdown, the team took immediate measures to protect themselves from contamination and build resilience by making arrangements to ensure food, water, protective devices, information-sharing, and medicines to families. Once this was done, in a rather swift move, the team then turn its attention to the most vulnerable beneficiaries of UNICEF assistance and looked at ways it can move its expertise across the country to better serve children, adolescents, and pregnant women.
In the first weeks of quarantine, part of the Country Office staff headed by the Representative, Herve Ludovic de Lys, traveled by road to southern Venezuela due to the suspension of local flights.
Once in the Bolívar state, using the first UNICEF inland chartered flight, they accompanied our local office colleagues to Santa Elena de Uairen, at the border with Brazil, and delivered vital supplies to Venezuelan families returning from neighboring countries. They also visited one the main reference hospital for children where UNICEF renovated the pediatric and maternity ward and drilled 2 boreholes to resupply the health facilities with clean water.
In Delta Amacuro state, they identified and visited a boat hospital that has ceased operations for 5 years and started the planning process for resuming services of this floating health facilities with the aim of serving 100,000 indigenous people living in isolated areas of the Orinoco delta.
After several weeks on the ground, the Central Office team came back to Caracas to plan their next journey, now to the western states of Tachira and Apure. Usually, it would take 13 hours by road to get to San Cristobal, the capital city of Tachira state, where the UNICEF office is located. Our team made it in two days because of weather and traffic, but also because they had to spend the night in one of the five states they go through after reaching their final destination.
Tachira state is on the border with Colombia. Due to the economic impact of COVID-19 in countries that host migrants, many Venezuelans have chosen to return to their homeland. Assisting returning families and children are one of the main reasons why the central office team and the Representative are deployed to Tachira to reinforce UNICEF local team and amplified the response to the double burden of COVID-19 and returning migrants particularly in WASH and child protection.
As hand washing is one of the primary measures to mitigate COVID-19, safe water access is one of the utmost priority for UNICEF in Venezuela. To fast-track the repairs of critical water systems and assist in daily operations, UNICEF Representative, visited several primary and secondary water treatment plants in Tachira to prioritize UNICEF response and make critical decisions for accelerating our support.
Also, as part of WASH's beneficiary-focused interventions, the team went to the communities on the outskirts of San Antonio a few hundred meters away from the border with Colombia to assess the best way for strengthening water to the most vulnerable families.
Reaching all children and adolescents with access to essential services, health supplies, and education continuity is part of every day UNICEF's mission. It becomes more of an imperative during an emergency such as COVID-19 pandemic and UNICEF Venezuela team is showing the way to other UN agencies and partners on what it means to stay and deliver for the most vulnerable children.
* Hervé Ludovic De Lys is the UNICEF Venezuela Representative