Panamanians, Migrants Closer to Health Services, Better Coexistence

Cooperation and solidarity

The project was called “Strengthening Communities for Primary Health Care,” implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in close coordination with the Ministry of Health (MoH) of Panama. It ended a few weeks ago, after being funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

While aiding migrants, the project also helped locals learn about the newcomers in their midst, including many Venezuelans. 

Albis Thorp is Panamanian. “Although my relationship with migrants was always good, I never took a deeper look at them,” she confessed. That changed when she joined the IOM project as a health promoter. 

“I discovered many stories,” Albis explained. “But there is one that marked me: Fiorella, a Venezuelan woman, pregnant, with a threat of abortion, and afraid to go to the health facilities. We helped her to be treated first in a health center and then in the hospital.”  

Sadly, Fiorella lost her baby, but the team saved her life, provided follow-up and emotional support. She has recovered and has resolved to become part of a community network that orients other migrants about the health facilities they can access. 

More than 7,000 migrants from different countries and vulnerable Panamanians from the districts of San Miguelito and La Chorrera, two of the areas with the highest proportion of migrants in Panamá, benefited from the support of health promoters like Albis. These community-based workers provided orientation and information on health promotion and disease prevention topics and referred cases for health care, while offering support and follow-up.  

Through this project, IOM strengthened the MoH’s efforts to improve health care access among migrants in vulnerable situations and their host communities. The community outreach and communication campaign fielded eight health promoters who were trained on different MoH programs, such as on sexual and reproductive health, mental health, services for adolescents and children, tuberculosis, HIV and STDs, vaccination schemes, arboviruses, malaria and COVID-19, and other topics related to migration, such as international migration and human rights, trafficking in persons, smuggling, and xenophobia, among others. Also, 14 volunteer community leaders were identified and trained to support in the referral of cases. 

Educational activities for the promotion of health and disease prevention were developed jointly with MoH personnel at five health centers, at metro stations and supermarkets, and through community visits, and virtual training sessions. Also, vaccination sessions were held, and support was provided to screen for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 at certain checkpoints by taking people´s temperatures. Among the people reached by this project, 351 were referred for vaccination and medical care, including 15 suspected cases of COVID-19, all cases that turned out to be negative.  

“As the Ministry of Health, we have the responsibility to provide assistance to everyone within the national territory. This project is important because foreigners in our country are often unaware of the Ministry of Health’s scope and how to access services that are available to them,” said Thays Noriega, Head of International Affairs and Technical Cooperation of the Ministry of Health.  

“One of the next steps will be to follow up on the population reached, in conjunction with the health regions,” added Gonzalo Medina, IOM’s National Programme Officer in Panamá.  

Better access to health services was not the only impact of this project. “Now I see more than a Venezuelan. I see a human being who, because of the situation in his country, was pushed to leave behind his family, friends, and customs,” says Albis, the Panamanian health promoter. “They have gone from being skilled professionals with vast experience to being street vendors, reinventing themselves, becoming entrepreneurs, and living with fears in a place different from their land.” 

“This is an excellent initiative for us. With this project, I have learned a little more about the costs in the health centers, the attention of some specialists, the medicines, the vaccines that Panamá offers,” said Josnelly, a Venezuelan volunteer in the project. 

For more information, please contact Mayteé Zachrisson at IOM Panamá, Email:,  Tel: +507 6312 5700. 

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