USAID Assistant Administrator Visits URCs Community Nutrition and Health Project in Guatemala

USAID Assistant Administrator for Global Health Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez visited URC's Community Nutrition and Health (Nutri-Salud) Project in Guatemala last month to learn how agency-supported projects, like Nutri-Salud, are implementing health and nutrition activities in the area. Nutri-Salud Chief of Party Elena Hurtado and URC Country Director Hernán Delgado accompanied Dr. Pablos-Méndez, along with representatives from the USAID Mission, including Health and Education Office Director Eric Janowsky.

The delegates visited one of the Convergence centers that Nutri-Salud supports in Quiché and observed health care providers at work. Convergence centers are facilities, ranging from a health clinic to a community center to a household living room, where families from surrounding villages formerly came together once a month to access primary health care services: Nutri-Salud Convergence Center in QuichéA mobile clinic would bring health care providers and supplies to the facility.

Under a new service delivery model, families can now access services continuously, as the convergence centers are staffed with full-time, trained health care workers five days a week. Nutri-Salud supports this new model by providing grants to 19 NGOs, which use the grant funds to provide services at the centers. The NGOs cover 30 municipios, or districts, in the Western Highlands, where the project operates.

Dr. Pablos-Méndez spoke briefly about his trip with local cable news channel TV 4 (see video below). He affirmed the US government's commitment to empowering poor people to have better health and applauded the communities' and USAID partners' efforts to prevent malnutrition and combat maternal mortality in the country. He asserted that it is possible to eliminate maternal and child mortality if root causes, such as girls' education, family planning, quality health care, good nutrition, and family and community support, are addressed.

Dr. Pablos-Mendez also told his personal story, of being a descendent of Yaqui Indians from Mexico who was able to attend college and become a doctor and USAID official partly because of good health and nutrition. The story attests to the importance of quality health care and support and shows what is possible when they are present.

Courtesy of Hector Javier Tecum Jorge

Addressing Chronic Malnutrition in Guatemala

Chronic malnutrition, or stunting, starts before birth and is caused by poor maternal nutrition, poor feeding practices, and poor food quality, as well as frequent infections, which can slow growth. A child who is stunted is shorter than normal for his/her age, has diminished cognitive capacity, and is at greater risk of dying from infectious diseases. The damage done to a stunted child's body and brain is irreversible after a certain age. This adversely affects academic performance, potential future earnings, and, ultimately, national development.

Guatemala has some of the world's highest rates of stunting, which have shown almost no change over decades and present an enormous development burden and challenge. Nationwide, almost 50% of children under 5 years are stunted. Rates among indigenous children ages 3–59 months (65.9%) are almost twice that of non-indigenous children (36.2%). Mortality rates in children under 5 are also higher among rural and indigenous children than among urban and ladino, or non-indigenous children. In the Western Highlands, where most indigenous populations live and where the highest concentration of poverty exists, chronic malnutrition, and maternal and neonatal death exists, these rates are as high as 70%.

Nutri-Salud provides health, nutrition, and family planning services to communities in the Western Highlands. One of the project's key strategies for combating chronic malnutrition is improving the nutritional status of women of reproductive age and children under five by implementing the seven essential nutrition actions. The strategy focuses on pregnancy and the first two years of a child's life, known as on "the first 1,000 days," which offer a unique window of opportunity to shape healthier and more prosperous futures.

USAID Assistant Administrator Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez (back row, right) visits a Nutri-Salud-supported convergence center in Chichicastenango, Quiché, Guatemala. Photo by Elena Hurtado, URC.
USAID Assistant Administrator Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez (back row, right) visits a Nutri-Salud-supported convergence center in Chichicastenango, Quiché, Guatemala. Photo by Elena Hurtado, URC.
October 18, 2013
Regions/ Countries