#Global Health Corner: The Effects of Malnutrition on Child Mortality in Guatemala

On December 10 of 1948, the general assembly of the United Nations stated in article three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person” (UN,1948). According to this declaration, every individual should be able to live to their full potential without struggle and with access to whatever they may need to live a full and healthy life. This declaration is most significant for children, after all, they are the leaders of tomorrow and the hope for our future. The well-being of children should be the greatest concern for every nation, not only because of the great future that lies in their hands but also because of the negative consequences that arise when their well-being is not given top priority.

In Guatemala, one of the greatest threats to the welfare of a child is malnutrition. It affects not only their physical well-being but also their cognitive development. A report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that among all the countries in Latin America and the Caribbeans, Guatemala exhibits the highest rates of chronic malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 years of age (almost one million). In 2018, the child mortality rate for Guatemala was reported to be 26.2 deaths per thousand live births and a majority of these deaths were due to inadequate nutrition.

Guatemalan children who experience malnutrition are more likely to die in their early years and are more prone to physical and cognitive abnormalities. Children who experience malnutrition in their first 1,000 days of life may experience up to 40% less structural brain development and often struggle with learning and acquiring the skills they need later on in adulthood. However, the greatest risk of chronic malnutrition in Guatemalan children is the heightened susceptibility to infectious diseases and the occurrence of non-communicable diseases in adulthood.

Infectious diseases are diseases caused by microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, virus) that are not normally found in the body and are capable of causing infection. In 2012, about 10,000 Guatemalans died from lower respiratory infections (e.g. pneumonia, bronchitis) and over 2,000 died from HIV, TB or malaria. Malnutrition increases susceptibility to infection and in turn infection can contribute to malnutrition which creates a viscous cycle. An inadequate intake of nutrition can lead to excessive weight loss, weak immunity, and mucous damage. The decline of these three factors allows for the invasion of pathogens, impaired growth and development in children. Non communicable diseases are diseases that are non-infectious, non-transmissible, and are of long duration. In 2016, about 59% of the total deaths in Guatemala were due to non-communicable diseases. Malnutrition often takes a toll on key body systems and makes them vulnerable to damage. Malnutrition has been linked to the occurrence and susceptibility to diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes.

One of the most effective ways to alleviate the consequences of malnutrition is through the implementation of oral vitamins. Multivitamins are able to address many nutritional deficiencies and prevent the deterioration of health that occurs with malnutrition. They provide iron, vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin D all in one capsule and can be taken by anyone. Providing multivitamins to our partners in Guatemala is one the ways we have chosen to address the effects on malnutrition on child mortality in Guatemala and we believe that this supplementation is key to bettering health of these children. Partnering with Impact Ministries in order to help provide daily vitamins for the children in their schools and clinics also helps alleviate the issues they face due to the ongoing drug shortage within the country.

There are so many ways you can join in the our effort to combact child malnourishment in Guatemala. You can share our message, volunteer your time, or donate. Every little bit brings us one step closer to providing enough vitamins to supply Impact schools for an entire school year. To learn more, visit littlebeats.ca !

Together we can make an impact on the health of the nations and the generations to come.

The mission of WHEF is to increase accessibility to medications and supplies for healthcare facilities in Guatemala and Grenada. If you are interested in hearing more about the work we are doing, or in connecting with us, you can visit our website, check out our instagram or facebook, or sign up to receive our newletters. If you would like to support us in our work, please donate here.

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