Policy Brief Essay

Submitted By AngelaL3
Words: 2638
Pages: 11

From: Secretary of Health, GuatemalaTo: Minister of Finance, GuatemalaIntroductionUndernutrition is a serious condition that imposes many health challenges for the vulnerable populations of Guatemala. Guatemala has the third highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world with 54% of its population exhibiting signs of stunting1. The most prominent risk factors of undernutrition are micronutrient deficiencies of iron, and vitamin A2. The most highly affected populations are children under five, women who are pregnant or lactating, and those of indigenous descent3. Risk factors for this nutritional emergency can be attributed to poor infant feeding practices, high disease burden and limited education of the mother4. The effects of undernutrition expand into the education and productivity of children, which can impede future economic growth. Progress can be made in terms of prevention, promotion and treatment of the disease through fortification of food, education of mothers, and implementation of treatment initiatives such as prenatal treatment and fortification programs.Nature and Magnitude of the ProblemGuatemala has the highest percentage of chronically malnourished children in Latin America, and the third largest in the world. One in eight infants is born with a low birth weight5. Nearly half of the country's children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and over one third of child deaths under five are related to malnutrition6. In Latin American countries, Guatemala remains the only country unable to significantly decrease its rate of malnutrition over the past decade. Even compared to poorer countries like Haiti, Guatemala has less success in addressing this problem. Stunting in some communities is so commonplace that inhabitants fail to comprehend the widespread effects of undernutrition7.Although most of the population consumes enough calories, certain essential nutrients are deficient due to the normal Guatemalan diet of cereals and limited animal products8. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to iron, vitamin A and iodine deficiency are prevalent in Guatemala. A consequence of iron deficiency is anemia, which affects 38% of children under five and 22% of pregnant women9. This deficiency can lead to the impairment of cognitive development and to poor school performance10. Vitamin A also affects children, and about 16 % of preschool aged children are deficient in vitamin A11. An estimated 1,500 deaths in Guatemala can be attributed annually to vitamin A deficiency. Another main cause of vitamin and mineral deficiencies is iodine. Only half of all households in Guatemala use iodized salt. This iodine deficiency results in nearly 67,000 children per year being born with a mental impairment12. Affected PopulationsPoor, indigenous, and rural communities have higher rates of undernourishment compared to their counterparts13. In particular, 64% of the poorest populations suffer from chronic malnutrition which is nearly four times the rate compared to the richest populations. Children from birth to 24 months have the highest prevalence of stunting14. This time frame is the critical period in which irreversible developmental damage can occur due to malnutrition. The health of mothers and their children are interrelated and uneducated mothers tend to be more undernourished, more likely to experience complications due to undernutrition and more apt to engender these conditions to their children15. Other vulnerable populations are the communities which constitute most of the indigenous population. The indigenous population is twice as likely to be undernourished compared to ladino (non-indigenous) populations16. Nearly 8 out of 10 indigenous children are stunted compared to 4 out of 10 ladino children. Risk FactorsThe three main risk factors include poor infant feeding practices, high disease burden, and limited education of the mother. Poor infant feeding practices can lead to undernutrition and lower productivity later…