Parasite Prevention In Rural Guatemala
In Guatemala, parasitic infections are a very common reality and a major deterrent to growth, development and academic success for children and teens. Because of the prevalence of such infections, and the ease with which they can go undetected, the country maintains a protocol of prophylactic treatment every six months for children, and recommends regular treatment for adults as well.
All school children should receive this treatment from the Ministry of Health in their classrooms, however when we inquired about this in some of the communities Timmy served, we learned that it was not always possible due to limited resources and gaps in coverage by the local Ministry of Health. Xeabaj and Pujujil are the two most isolated rural communities served by Timmy in Guatemala, with the highest incidence of parasitic infections, and neither has regular coverage for parasite treatment in schools by the Ministry of Health. While many children are able to receive the treatment as a part of Timmy brigades, the vast majority were still unprotected against these common and debilitating infections.
In October 2014, Timmy and Pop Wuj partnered to begin a formal parasite prevention effort in the small community of Xeabaj, Santa Catarina, Ixtuhacan. With the permission and collaboration of local health and education authorities, a small group of volunteers arrived to the elementary school, and one by one the classrooms of children came to receive their parasite treatment and a bag of vitamins. Preschool-sixth grade students were attended, as well as younger children or those not enrolled in classes. In total, treatment was provided to 88 children, and plans made to return in 6 months.
On March 24th, 2015, the project was expanded to the somewhat larger community of Pujujil, Sololá. With a much larger overall population, and less direct communication, the team didn’t know quite what to expect upon arrival. The community was extremely supportive and appreciative of the support. A team of 5 staff and volunteers from Timmy/Pop Wuj arrived, and were supported by local government officials, who quickly set to work organizing the students in each classroom, preparing the treatments, and counting vitamins. By the end of the morning, 425 students ages 4-14 had received the parasite prevention treatment, and a bag of vitamins.
While it may seem simple and even tedious to continue providing this treatment over and over, the difference can be found in a small child who can now absorb nutrients in their food and therefore improves in cognitive and physical development, or a teen who has improved energy and concentration, and is able to continue their studies. Pop Wuj and Timmy will continue to provide this treatment in these communities, and will work with the Ministry of Health, sharing information and supporting coverage until the government is able to make a strong commitment to continue this protocol. We are excited to share that the children in these communities will now have one less barrier to their success as they continue to study and grow!
by Ashley Aue
Ashley is Timmy’s Medical Programs Coordinator on the ground in Xela, Guatemala. This blog post highlights ways that Timmy and its in-country partner Pop Wuj are working together to tackle parasitic infections among school children in rural Guatemala.