Last month, Kristen Kelly, Senior Associate, Latin America & Caribbean Partnerships, traveled to Guatemala to visit our partner, the Order of Malta, and the institutions and communities they support with donated medicines and supplies delivered by AmeriCares. The visit focused on medical capabilities and ability to use the medical and humanitarian aid we deliver. Below are Kristen’s impressions of what she witnessed during her visit.
Guatemala is unlike any other country I have seen in Central America. The inequality is hugely apparent, as is the need. AmeriCares delivers a large volume of medical and humanitarian aid to the country, and I soon discovered that not only do they put it all to good use – but they can use so much more.
The malnutrition rates are among the highest in Latin America, creating a crucial need for food and supplements, as well as treatments for maladies that are either a direct result of malnutrition or worsened by malnutrition.
“Now bedridden, the young mother could not cook for her family.”
I have a vivid memory of a young mother that I met. She was my age, but looked 10 years older. As she nursed her baby, the community health care worker explained the hardships this young mother faced: At just 25 years old, she had five children under the age of 10 and had just suffered a miscarriage. Now bedridden, the young mother could not cook for herself or her family. Her son, all smiles and laughter despite his circumstances, had just been given a XANGO meal pack provided by AmeriCares to make up for the food his mother was too weak to prepare.
There is a saying in Guatemala: Patients die with their prescription in hand. The lack of medicines and gaps in healthcare were more than evident in the woman we met who was suffering with a treatable goiter that obstructed her airway, making it difficult for her to breathe. She had been waiting for an appointment to see a specialist for six months after her initial visit to the hospital.
“At this hospital, every Friday is “Bullet-removal day.”
Violence is another “disease” that plagues Guatemala more than other Central American countries I’ve seen. The public hospital we visited cited trauma care as their highest priority and need.
Our tour began in the emergency room where we saw a doctor stitching a wound after removing a piece of a bala, or bullet, from the patient’s left finger. When I asked the doctor whether bullet wounds were commonplace, he explained that at this hospital, every Friday was el dia de las balas – or “Bullet removal day.” On the way out, firemen rushed in a gurney carrying a patient with a bullet wound located an inch from his carotid artery. The doctors were not surprised; this was not a rare occurrence.
Sometimes, in this line of work, you can almost become desensitized after visiting so many impoverished hospitals and clinics. This did not happen in Guatemala – it was a hugely impactful trip to a country that clearly has a desperate need for the help that AmeriCares delivers.