Last week the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, announced that the country will eradicate malnutrition within the next four years. The government will focus on pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as young children. The pledge is a response to the fact that Ecuador has the fourth highest rate of malnutrition in Latin America, hovering around 19 percent of the country’s population. Yet, according to UNICEF, the Chimborazo region of Ecuador — where MEDLIFE conducts most of its Mobile Clinics and patient follow-up work — has an even higher malnutrition rate of 44 percent. The Chimborazo region is home to many poor, rural communities, as well as indigenous groups.
“AlimÃ©ntate, Ecuador” is a new program that provides pregnant women and mothers of infants with a small stipend to get regular checkups. The program also helps teach mothers about exclusive breastfeeding (when an infant only receives breast milk without any additional food or drink) as well as complementary foods (when additional foods are introduced into a child’s diet). According to the program’s website, “AlimÃ©ntate” has already been successful in reducing rates of anemia by 12 percent during the past year in the community of Manta.
The program uses local residents and trains them to be health promoters. The promoters must attend six workshops, where they learn about healthy food pairings, reducing fats and sugars, and how to incorporate local foods into their diets. The focus on returning to ancestral foods works well with the newly released Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011,” which gives suggestions on how to improve the incidents of hunger and malnutrition in Latin America. The report points out that many Latin American countries have become dependent on imported foods which are expensive and subject to huge price jumps based on inflation. Outside of price concerns, there is also a risk that cheap imported foods can replace more nutritious regional options. MEDLIFE staff workers also see this in Peru where processed white rice has replaced traditional protein-rich Inca grains such as Quinoa and Tarweii. The FAO suggestions have already spurred local-food pushes in both Bolivia and Argentina. Bolivia’s campaign is subsidizing farmers who grow nutrient-rich, ancestral foods that are easier on the soil and require less chemical fertilizers. Latin American countries have a wealth of extremely nutritious foods — hugely significant resources in the fight to overcome malnutrition. Hopefully, Ecuadorian programs will continue to be successful in reducing this crippling disease and be able to convince people to return to some of their ancestral eating habits.
MEDLIFE Summer Interns JP Gorham and Rachel Eggleston spent the summer working with government officials in Ecuador on a project aimed at analyzing and improving a pilot malnutrition program, DesnutriciÃ³n Cero. You can read about their work here.