San Diego Doctors Volunteer To Treat Migrants In Crowded Tijuana Shelters
Thursday, November 29, 2018
Photo by Jean Guerrero
Susan Murphy, health reporter, KPBS News
Some San Diego doctors are volunteering to care of migrants at Tijuana’s overflowing shelters, where as many as 6,000 people are living side-by-side in tents and under blankets surrounded by trash and soiled clothing.
Dr. Julie Sierra, an internal medicine physician with UC San Diego Health, volunteers as part of a network of doctors organized by San Diego Border Dreamers. She said the group is also working closely with a large group of Mexican physicians to treat Central American migrants in Tijuana’s shelters.
She said confining thousands of people together in unsanitary conditions is a public health crisis in the making. The migrants share a handful of toilets and have little access to showers.
"You know, things we worry about are things like infectious diarrhea, anything being passed on from not being able to wash your hands," Sierra said.
The doctors are treating illnesses such as upper respiratory infections, rashes and gastroenterology problems, including diarrhea, constipation and upset stomachs.
"I saw mostly women and children, actually most of the women I saw were pregnant — 6 to 8 months pregnant. They’ve been traveling in that state and they’re very fatigued and very traumatized quite frankly by the journey and having to flee their homeland," she said.
Sierra said the group of doctors is well-stocked with donated medications and supplies.
"We have medicines for colds, coughs. We have Tylenol, ibuprofen, we even have antibiotics. They have actually a really well-stocked pharmacy at one of the shelters so if somebody needs something that we don’t have we can easily get it from a pharmacy."
One of the next steps is vaccinations, Sierra said.
"We did see a young man with the mumps. And then I know at one of the shelters they saw someone with chickenpox. It’s hard to know who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t. So that’s another thing we’re working on is to find out who’s up to date on their vaccinations and if they’re not we can try and get everybody vaccinated," she said.
Sierra also treats migrants at a shelter at an undisclosed location on the San Diego side of the border. She said 70 to 100 migrants are being brought to the shelter every day. These are people who have been granted temporary asylum while awaiting their court hearing. And they typically stay at the large, communal sleeping facility for one to two nights.
"They get food, clothing, a place to sleep, they get help with transportation — finding the address of where they’re going, bus tickets — anything that they need," she said.
Sierra is inspired to help the migrants because of her previous experience in volunteering in poor countries with the Peace Corps. She’s urging other medical professionals to do the same.
"We definitely need more help. Especially physicians, nurses, medical students, residents — anybody who speaks Spanish. We definitely need help on both sides of the border," she said.
Sierra plans to return to the Tijuana migrant shelters on Saturday.
Some San Diego doctors are volunteering their time to care of migrants at Tijuana’s overflowing shelters, where as many as 6,000 people are living side-by-side in tents and under blankets surrounded by trash and soiled clothing.
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