The Endless Vulnerability of Migrant Children In-Transit across the Darién Gap

Laura Naranjo GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines CARICAM, Panama City, Republic of Panama;
Sistema Nacional de Investigación, SNI-Senacyt, Panama City, Republic of Panama;

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Yesenia Williams Hospital de Niños José Renán Esquivel, Panama City, Republic of Panama;

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Jacqueline Levy Hospital de Niños José Renán Esquivel, Panama City, Republic of Panama;

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Rosela Obando Caja del Seguro Social, Panama City, Republic of Panama;

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José A. González Hospital Irma De Lourdes Tzanetato, Panama City, Republic of Panama;

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Mónica Pachar Hospital Santo Tomás, Panama City, Republic of Panama;
Hospital Oncológico, Panama City, Republic of Panama;

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Roderick Chen Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas, Panama City, Republic of Panama;

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Carlos Franco-Paredes Hospital Infantil de México, Federico Gómez, Mexico DF, Mexico;
Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado;

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Nelson Agudelo Higuita Department of Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma;

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Andrés Henao-Martínez Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, Colorado;

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Yamilka Diaz Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas, Panama City, Republic of Panama;

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José A. Suárez Sistema Nacional de Investigación, SNI-Senacyt, Panama City, Republic of Panama;
Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Universidad de Panama, Panama City, Republic of Panama;
Facultad de Ciencias de la salud, Uisek, Ecuador

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ABSTRACT.

Many people from poverty-stricken countries are migrating across South and Central America to reach the México–United States border, a movement exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Migrant people who begin their northbound journey in South America must transit across a significant geographic bottleneck, the Darién Gap, a mountainous rainforest region between Colombia and Panama. Most migrant people crossing this region originate from Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela. Other people reach the shores of South American countries from west and central Africa or central and southeastern Asia and continue to the Darién Gap. Poverty and violence drive families with children to flee their homes and endure incalculable risks in their path. Children traveling with their families or as unaccompanied minors across the Darién Gap are exposed to life-threatening situations and human rights violations, including abuse, exploitation, malnourishment, and limited access to medical care. In addition to experiencing untreated medical illnesses, children experience mental health disorders during migration and after they reach their destination as a result of victimization and adverse traumatic experiences. Therefore, providing migrants, especially children, with rapid medical screenings and mental health support when they arrive at their destination is critical to reduce health inequities. Furthermore, making these interventions available during their transit and ensuring their safety may prevent further human rights abuses in children and families. Latin American governments must address the ongoing humanitarian crisis endured by migrants throughout their migratory path by offering access to essential healthcare services and safeguarding the rights and security of children and vulnerable groups.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Carlos Franco-Paredes, Hospital Infantil de México, Federico Gómez, Dr Marquez 162. Col. Doctores. CD Mexico, 06720 Mexico, E-mail: carlos.franco.paredes@gmail.com or José A. Suárez, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Universidad de Panama Av Transistmica, Panama City, Apartado 3366 Panama, E-mail: Jasuarez05@gmail.com

Disclosure: L. N. is a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) employee. All the information in this paper is her opinion and does not reflect the position of GSK.

Authors’ addresses: Laura Naranjo, GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines CARICAM, Panama City, Republic of Panama, and Sistema Nacional de Investigación, SNI-Senacyt, Panama City, Republic of Panama, E-mail: naranjo.laura1@gmail.com. Yesenia Williams and Jacqueline Levy, Hospital de Niños José Renán Esquivel, Panama City, Republic of Panama, E-mails: ywilliams30@gmail.com and lini09@hotmail.com. Rosela Obando, Caja del Seguro Social, Panama, Panama City, Republic of Panama, E-mail: roselaobando@criptext.com. José A. González, Hospital Irma De Lourdes Tzanetato, Panama City, Republic of Panama, E-mail: joseanelgr@gmail.com. Mónica Pachar, Hospital Santo Tomás, Panama, Panama City, Republic of Panama, and Hospital Oncológico, Panama City, Republic of Panama, E-mail: dra.pachar17@gmail.com. Roderick Chen and Yamilka Diaz, Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas, Panama City, Republic of Panama, E-mails: chen.roderick@gmail.com and ydiaz@gorgas.gob.pa. Carlos Franco-Paredes, Hospital Infantil de México, Federico Gómez, Mexico DF, Mexico, and Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, E-mail: carlos.franco.paredes@gmail.com. Nelson Agudelo Higuita, Department of Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK, E-mail: nelson-agudelo-higuita@ouhsc.edu. Andrés Henao-Martínez, Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO, E-mail: andres.henaomartinez@cuanschutz.edu. José A. Suárez, Sistema Nacional de Investigación, SNI-Senacyt, Panama City, Republic of Panama, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Universidad de Panama, Panama City, Republic of Panama, and Facultad de Ciencias de la salud, Uisek, Ecuador, E-mails: jasuarez05@gmail.com.

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