Panamanians, Migrants Closer to Health Services, Better Coexistence

Date Publish: 


Panama City – 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 Panamá. 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. 

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2020

Date Publish: 
30 / 07 / 2020

António Vitorino

Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM) 

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 

 30 July 2020 


This year is the twentieth anniversary of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, and its historic Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. 

We are half-way through a very difficult year for everyone, and our contemporary challenges have had a severe impact on people’s vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation. 

IOM was implementing counter-trafficking interventions in accordance with human rights principles long before the Palermo Protocol gave us the clearly defined parameters that we know today. And likewise, our interventions have evolved over time as new forms of trafficking have emerged. 

We have learned, as have governments, that it is imperative to partner with the private sector, trade unions, supply chain auditors, and recruitment agencies to put in place practices to reduce the risks of trafficking and exploitation. 

As we embark upon a new decade, the world is now confronted with perhaps our biggest challenge to counter-trafficking – that of a pandemic, that has in addition brought severe restrictions to mobility, impacted livelihoods, and limited access to vulnerable people. COVID-19 has brought a devastating impact upon the household security and health of billions of people all over the world, which inevitably heightens vulnerability and risk of exploitation, whether it is job-seekers taking hazardous journeys, families relying on child labour for survival, or the marriage of young daughters in a desperate attempt to relieve economic strain. 

Now, as we have always done, the anti-trafficking community must evolve and adapt to this new crisis, finding innovative ways to identify trends, to screen for vulnerabilities, to support States while advocating for human rights and the prevention of abuse, and to seek safe and viable options for those who will remain on the move.  Let's move into this direction together, as united we are stronger!