Breaking News: The President of Colombia receives the Measles & Rubella Leadership Award at the 74th United Nations General Assembly

Measles & Rubella Leadership Awardee Colombia President Ivan Duque with WHO’s Director-General Dr. Tedros Adehnom Ghebreysus at the UN General Assembly. Photo credit: UN


On September 24, 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly, the President of Colombia, Iván Duque received the Measles & Rubella Leadership Award from the World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom. This Leadership Award was given on behalf of the Measles & Rubella Partnership founding partners (the American Red Cross, U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, and WHO)  in recognition of President Duque’s leadership and commitment in improving the health of people in Colombia and the region, most notably in addressing the health and humanitarian needs of the migrants from Venezuela.

The Colombian President said the award is “proof that we have acted in an effective way in the way we have handled one of the most dramatic migratory crises that Latin America has experienced in recent times.”

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Since 2017, an estimated 1.4 million Venezuelans have migrated to Colombia. From January 2017 to 1 September 2019, there have been almost 500 confirmed measles cases, which likely came from unvaccinated populations migrating from Venezuela. The Colombia Ministry of Health was able to respond immediately to the reported cases by identifying all contacts, finding other cases in the surrounding communities, and vaccinating the unimmunized. The country also intensified vaccination activities especially in areas with high population mobility, such as transport terminals and registration points for Venezuelan migrant populations. Colombia’s response also included targeted vaccination campaign for at-risk infants’ ages six to eleven months in high-priority areas.

Between 2017-2019, Colombia funded nearly 900,000 doses of vaccines directly for the increased vaccination efforts, and also funded another US$50 million to finance health and humanitarian needs. The country remains committed to trying to vaccinate everyone, everywhere and will continue efforts to ensure any future outbreaks can be quickly contained through these crucial investments.

Measles & Rubella Partnership Support

In addition to the Government of Colombia’s swift control of the measles outbreaks, the Measles & Rubella Partnership partners also provided key support to the country and the region. The Measles & Rubella Partnership gave additional resources for measles surveillance, emergency operations, laboratory and outbreak response, vaccinators and vaccination posts in border areas, and capacity building of national vaccinators in rapid response. Additionally, the Measles & Rubella Partnership will also help support an innovative tool: a regional immunization card parents keep with them to document their children’s immunizations, no matter where they move. To help increase regional preparedness, 10 countries in the Region of the Americas (Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and the United States) agreed to use a unified immunization card for migrant children from Venezuela.

Despite the challenges of a highly mobile migrant population, Colombia quickly took action to stop measles in its tracks. With international support from Measles & Rubella Partnership partners to help strengthen both national and regional response, what could have easily turned into a long-lasting, deadly public health crisis was swiftly contained. Colombia’s decisive action—and the global partnerships which helped bolster their response—should serve as a shining example to other countries facing down fragility, conflict, and instability and the potential public health impacts that follow.

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