MEDLIFE Intern Amara Channell writes about a new facet of our educational programs -- health and nutritional workshops for the poor in Latin America:

“What can I do to make my child eat more?”

If you have ever attended one our Mobile Clinics, chances are you have heard at least one mother ask why her child is not eating and what medicine the doctors can give her to fix it. Each time the doctors patiently explain that picky eaters are not sick -- they just have a behavioral or taste issue.

Through our expanding educational programs, we have found that one of the biggest problems is that patients lack or misconstrue basic nutritional knowledge. Very few Peruvian schools offer health education, and even if they did, many of our patients have not completed school. The mothers we work with sincerely believe that the more they can make their children eat, the healthier they will be. Their goal is to have chubby children because to them it is a sign of health. Unfortunately, this means that these children are eating fattening diets, not balanced ones, with large amounts of white rice and potatoes, but not much else. Along the way they are developing greater risk of diabetes.

Although very few of our patients show signs of traditional malnutrition, Kwashiorkor or Marasmus, many of them do suffer from micronutrient deficiencies (or “hidden hunger”) which are harder to spot. Worldwide, over one billion children suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Even though these children may seem perfectly healthy, they have depressed immune function, smaller attention spans, decreased muscle development, height stunting, and poor teeth. They are less likely to complete school because of increased illnesses and decreased brain development. As adults they continue to have issues because the lack of nutrients causes them to be more susceptible to obesity, illness, and muscle weakness. A recent Economist article states that these adults will end up with lower paying jobs, die sooner, and have poorer partners.

In the past few weeks, MEDLIFE has started trying to counter these problems with nutritional “talleres,” or seminars, for local Peruvian women. The seminars last about an hour and give women the absolute basics about nutrition as well as a chance to ask individual questions.


The presentations start by suggesting affordable changes that the women can make, such as eating eggs instead of bread for breakfast, and emphasizing how important variety is. There is an incredible abundance of affordable fruits and vegetables here, but it is not a cultural norm to include them in most meals. By adapting the new MyPlate program (developed by USDA), we can show them a healthy and balanced way to think about preparing their plates.

Education is an integral tool for improving the overall health of communities and promoting healthy lifestyles; likewise, it is a core component of MEDLIFE's work in Latin America. Our most recent educational workshop in Peru focused on nutritional problems that plague the communities of Pamplona Alta, such as anemia, infant and child undernutrition, and the risk of parasitic infections. This workshop combined MEDLIFE's resources with those of a local leader, Sara Torres, who helped organize and run the event.

We first met Sara on a Mobile Clinic in her community of El Trebol. Sara runs a comedor (community kitchen), which receives formal government support through subsidies on specific food items. We learned that not only was Sara already providing low-cost meals to members of her community, but she was also passionate about educating them about the importance of a well-balanced diet. Together, we developed a workshop to teach tips for battling malnutrition, including how to use a somewhat surprising ingredient  -- chicken blood -- to combat anemia.

Watch the video below for highlights from the event:


According to the World Food Programme (WFP) in Peru, "approximately 11 million people (38%) do not cover their minimum daily calories intake (2,100Kcal)." The WFP also notes the importance of using sangrecita (chicken-blood pudding) to prevent anemia, and has published a cookbook of over 40 household recipes containing sangrecita. More on the WFP program can be found here.

The first three letters of 'MEDLIFE' stand for Medicine, Education, and Development. Our work in Latin America seeks to improve the overall welfare of people living in poor communities by bettering access and services within each of these three pillars. Meredith McKay, MEDLIFE's media intern in Ecuador, created a short video to highlight the educational component of our Mobile Clinic program. Check it out!

Read our previous post on cervical cancer and the pap smear exam for more information on the work MEDLIFE is doing to combat cervical cancer in Ecuador and Peru.
July 27, 2011 11:49 pm

Parent Education in Peru

Written by Oana Butnareanu

18-1On a cold and misty Thursday afternoon, after an exhausting day of stair-building during our engineering brigade, I headed down the muddy slopes of Pamplona Alta alongside a few other MEDLIFE staff members towards a surprisingly clean green building, just a few minutes from our work site. 

This was one of the nearly half-dozen Wawa Wasi centers in Pamplona Alta – low cost daycare programs where children under four years of age from low-income families can spend the day while their mothers are studying or working outside the home. Wawa wasi is a Quechua phrase meaning "home for infants." The program was founded in 1993 as a collaborative effort between the Peruvian government and UNICEF to alleviate the dire needs of the increasing number of families living in poverty. For a nominal cost, children are provided with two full meals a day and are instructed in a number of subjects such as basic hygiene and early education.

18-2We were visiting this particular Wawa Wasi in the community of Mirador Dos to give a presentation to local mothers on basic hygiene and prevention of parasites. Stomach and intestinal parasites are rampant in Pamplona Alta due to exposure to contaminated water, food, and even the dirt in which children frequently play. Although we had expected to have somewhat of a larger audience, we were pleased with the ten or so parents who turned up. I began by asking the mothers how many of their kids had ever had diarrhea (although children worldwide frequently get diarrhea, it is a common cause of death in developing countries). Seeing an overwhelming number of hands go up, I clarified some of the common causes of diarrhea in developing countries, such as ingesting contaminated food and water. We then covered several essential points concerning hygiene, such as hand-washing and how to prevent transmission of contagious diseases.

Cervical cancer is the most frequent cancer contracted by women in Peru. It is the number two cancer killer of women in Ecuador; in the USA, it doesn't even crack the top 10. Women in Peru and Ecuador are 3-4 times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than women in the USA. The likelihood of mortality exacerbates the problem: the mortality rate for women in Ecuador and Peru is 5 times higher than for women in the USA.

The statistics explain enough: cervical cancer is a big problem in Peru and Ecuador. What is MEDLIFE doing to stem this epidemic?

Offering free pap smear exams
. The Pap smear is a screening test that detects warning signs of cervical cancer and pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. It is used extensively worldwide, and is generally recommended that women ages 18 and up receive an annual test. MEDLIFE hires a gynecologist or nurse-obstetrician to conduct pap smears during our Mobile Clinics. The exam is performed on site in a private gynecology tent, and the samples are analyzed at a local laboratory the following week. Individual results are then delivered to our patients by MEDLIFE patient follow-up coordinators.

Reaching women in need
. Hiring a gynecologist is easy -- getting local women to show up and take the test is the real challenge! There are many financial, educational, and cultural obstacles which prevent or discourage women in Ecuador and Peru from receiving regular Pap smear exams. MEDLIFE removes many of these barriers by physically bringing the Mobile Clinic directly into communities and need, and be offering the exam free of charge. On all Mobile Clinics, MEDLIFE conducts an educational program aimed at explaining the how the exam is conducted and enlightening women as to its importance. In the past two years, MEDLIFE has provided Pap smear exams to approximately 2000 women in Peru and Ecuador.

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