According to the World Health Organization, “Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients” (2019). The most common form of malnutrition is under-nutrition and it is commonly seen in children. It is characterized by the occurrence of stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height), low weight (for age) and micro-nutrient deficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals). Micro-nutrient deficiencies can result in a weakened immune system and make the body susceptible to infections and symptoms that limit the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The presence of infectious diseases can also cause a child suffering from low levels of malnutrition to become extremely undernourished. This vicious cycle between malnutrition and infectious diseases is the scary reality for many children under five around the world, including Guatemala.
Among all the countries in Latin America, Guatemala exhibits the highest rates of chronic malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 years of age. 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 associated with inadequate nutrition. It was also reported that about 10,000 Guatemalans died from lower respiratory infections (e.g. pneumonia, bronchitis) and over 2,000 died from HIV, TB or malaria. While we can all agree that tackling undernourishment and its consequences is of utmost importance, significant and long-term change cannot be seen unless the malnutrition-infectious disease cycle is addressed and broken.
Despite Guatemala’s weak health infrastructure, the country has been diligent in ensuring that its citizens are properly vaccinated against diseases such as measles. In 2018, a case of measles was confirmed in Guatemala City, it was the first case since 2016 when measles were declared as eradicated in all the Americas. Action was taken immediately by the Guatemalan government, various efforts were made to ensure that the infected individual was quarantined and that all who may have been exposed were vaccinated and monitored. With no other cases being reported, it was concluded that the intervention was successful.
The current percentage of the target population in Guatemala vaccinated against measles (as of December, 2019) is estimated to be 87% for MCV1 and 76% for MCV2. These numbers are incredible and super important because not only are children being protected against infectious diseases such as measles but they are also being collectively protected from symptoms of the diseases that can further escalate the the presence of malnutrition or cause a child suffering from low levels of malnutrition to become extremely undernourished. Studies have shown that children in low income countries vaccinated against infectious disease like measles, polio, TB, and pertussis are less likely to show signs of stunting and wasting. Further more, vaccinating pregnant women who have limited access to proper nutrition can help reduce fetal growth retardation.
Even with Guatemala’s high rates of immunization activities with diseases such as measles, pertussis (86%), and rota-virus (94%), the country continues to struggle to provide the vitamin supplementation that is needed alongside these vaccinations. The current percentage of children in the population that have received vitamin A doses (as of December, 2019) is estimated to be 50% for VAD1. Organizations such as WHO and UNICEF constantly reiterate the importance of vitamin supplements as additional treatments with the use of vaccinations in countries where malnutrition is prevalent. For example, vitamin A supplements are often given with the measles vaccine and are believed to further reduce the risk of mortality and the occurrence of other complications associated with measles.
So where do we come in? Although our organization is not currently providing vaccinations to Guatemala, we are attempting to break the malnutrition-infectious disease cycle and strengthen the current use of vaccinations among Guatemalan children by providing oral vitamins to our partners in Guatemala. Multivitamins are important in preventing nutritional deficiencies and alleviating the health consequences that result from malnutrition. Providing multivitamins to our partners in Guatemala has been essential in our work alongside the Guatemalan community to ensure that malnourished children are being protected against the occurrence of infectious diseases and the occurrence of further malnutrition due to the presence of an infectious disease.
So where do you come in? There are so many ways you can join us in our effort to break the child malnutrition-infectious disease cycle 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 HLH is to increase accessibility to medications and supplies for healthcare facilities in Guatemala. 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.