COVID-19’s Impact on the Most Vulnerable

The pandemic affects the health and well-being of millions of people, hitting the Americas with full force. The most vulnerable people, including Venezuelan migrants and refugees, end up suffering the most.

Photo: Kennyjo.

This global pandemic that we’re all going through is becoming the most important crisis that the world has faced in recent times, revealing the flaws in public health systems and social protection systems everywhere, with the potential of being not just a health pandemic, but a social pandemic, too. 

Even so, countries of the Americas have responded with agility and pragmatism, and with a wide range of measures to contain the virus and mitigate the consequences of the spread, from guaranteeing people’s access to food and medicine and the provision of special credit lines to companies to ensure the payment of wages, to freezing payments for basic services, and prohibitions of suspension of these services for non-payment to providers. There’s also the delivery of food packages to families and students who only had access to adequate food at school, and the measure that’s having the most impact in how we relate to each other: quarantine or social distancing.

But in a hemisphere marked by poverty and inequality, an aspect of this historic juncture that’s often overlooked is how this pandemic affects vulnerable people, and historically marginalized people in particular, in a rather pronounced way. As in any catastrophe, women, people with disabilities, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ community, children and youth, incarcerated people and those in poverty and extreme poverty are often the ones who endure the harshest impact on their livelihoods, their right to health, to work, to social security protections, and to live free of violence. 

It’s not the same to be an Afro-American migrant woman who’s also poor and COVID-19 positive than being an infected white migrant woman with financial means. 

This is precisely what the recently published OAS Practical Guide to Inclusive Rights-Focused Responses to COVID-19 in the Americas seeks to do: to highlight the particular challenges these populations face, and to map out the tailored responses that could alleviate their economic and human suffering. This Practical Guide also invites users to think of the concept of intersectionality, as a crosscutting element of the analysis and proposals for recommendations, meaning an approach to the pandemic and its responses taking into account the intersection of different people’s characteristics (age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, disability, etc.) that coexist and define them, and that, together, can make them more vulnerable in the midst of a pandemic. After all, it’s not the same to be an Afro-American migrant woman who’s also poor and COVID-19 positive than being an infected white migrant woman with financial means. 

The health care options and opportunities for treatment aren’t the same, unfortunately. 

Venezuelans face additional challenges in the midst of the pandemic. We’ve covered those hardships in Caracas Chronicles (including the ordeal of Venezuelans stranded in airports abroad), but I want to stress the dire situation Venezuelan women are facing. To improve conditions of women in Venezuela, CEPAZ along with Acción Solidaria, FUNCAMAMA, Unión Afirmativa and Prepara Familia, put together a fundraising campaign: #CONELLAS. Their goal is to address the needs of girls and women, who are the most affected by the current complex humanitarian emergency in Venezuela, and even more so now, as COVID-19 spreads.

Let’s not forget Venezuelan migrants and refugees either. Considering the social distancing measures applied in their receiving countries, and the economic effects of the pandemic, they’re in a situation of extreme vulnerability: try keeping social distance if you live in an overcrowded apartment with other migrants. Try being quarantined if you live on the streets. Try going without work for days because your commercial activity, especially in the informal economy where most migrants operate, has stopped. Some Venezuelan migrants and refugees have gotten infected with no health protections in their receiving countries, others live in shelters or migrant detention centers where contagion can happen faster. If Venezuelan migrants and refugees were already suffering before the epidemic, imagine now. 

We Can Make the Difference 

I know. So annoying to be asking for money. The thing is that in difficult times, such as the ones we live in today, we all suffer, but there are people whose suffering is frankly excruciating, and they probably won’t make it without our help.

Please support Venezuelan migrant organizations throughout the Americas, who have organized via Coalición por Venezuela, and joined forces with other civil society organizations to establish a fundraising campaign for those in Colombia, the country with the highest number of Venezuelan migrants. With your support, maybe the lives of one, two or more of our fellow Venezuelans can be a little better.


* Opinions are personal. They do not represent those of the Organization of American States.