Extreme poverty, malnutrition and poor sanitation impact Guatemala
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, an estimated 58 percent of Guatemalans live in poverty. The majority of the poorest are indigenous people of Mayan descent living in rural areas. Infant and maternal mortality rates among these groups are alarmingly high. Chronic malnutrition in children under five ranks as the highest in the Western Hemisphere. USAID’s Global Health Initiative says the rate is 59% for rural children and 66% for indigenous children. These high malnutrition rates have long term health, education and economic consequences for those who suffer from it.
Unfortunately, there has been very little progress in reducing chronic malnutrition. Less than half of Guatemala's rural residents have access to running water, a quarter have electricity at home and less than 10 percent have modern sanitary facilities. Dental decay is also a serious problem for many Guatemalans because access to dental care is limited and in the rural areas it is nonexistent.
Our work in Guatemala
In July 2010, Medical Teams International established a community health and nutrition project in the San Juan Chamelco municipality in the department of Alta Verapaz.
The children and women in San Juan Chamelco are particularly susceptible to chronic illnesses. The three biggest killers of children are acute respiratory infection, malnutrition and diarrhea, all preventable diseases. Over half of the children in the municipality of San Juan Chamelco are malnourished, affecting their physical and mental potential for the rest of their lives. Women also struggle disproportionately from malnutrition and birth related deaths.
Medical Teams International is working to improve the health of San Juan Chamelco by focusing on prevention and community case management of malnutrition, acute respiratory infection and diarrhea while simultaneously improving maternal health. In coordination with community, church, and government health officials, MTI is implementing a comprehensive portfolio of results-oriented activities to address these preventable diseases.
To date, we have trained and are actively working alongside more than 400 community volunteers in 22 communities in San Juan Chamelco. Through this network of committed volunteers, MTI Guatemala’s small staff is able to:
- Conduct monthly growth monitoring and counseling sessions for children.
- Offer emergency food supplements for severely malnourished children.
- Educate families on the identification and treat of childhood illnesses.
- Change bad health behaviors through strategic health trainings.
- Establish community pharmacies to create access to life saving, low-cost medications.
- Build ventilated stoves, water-systems and sanitary latrines to create an environment for health.
- Train community midwives to better care for pregnant women and to attend safe births.
- Ensure essential vaccinations are provided; among other activities.