There are an indisputably large number of indigenous people residing in Latin America. According to UNICEF, there are approximately 50 million indigenous people living in Latin America The World Health Organization (WHO) defines ‘indigenous’ by a list of attributes such as: “those recognized and accepted by their community as indigenous, or those that demonstrate historical continuity with pre-colonial societies; peoples with distinct social, economic, or political systems and groups that maintain distinct languages, cultures, and beliefs The Quechua is the largest of the indigenous groups with 10 million people as part of their communities. These people have learned to thrive and adapt in some of them most demanding environments. Most of these communities have built their livelihoods and economical survival solely based upon agriculture and domestication of animals alone to survive, primarily in the Andes Mountain There, they are subjected to high-altitude, cold temperatures, and low oxygen levels. There are multiple studies in the literature exploring the effects on the Quechua people living in the typical environment of the Andes Mountain A prominent adaptation such studies observed involved the body proportions found in indigenous groups living in the mountains. These people tend to be smaller and exhibit shorter limbs than their neighboring communities that reside in low-altitude areas It is often assumed that overtime, acclimatization in the mountains resulted in their inability to grow as tall due to the biological necessity to retain heat better over a smaller surface area However, later studies indicate that this is a sign of high levels of stunting as a result of poverty and limited resources. This brings us to the issue of poverty and malnutrition going hand in hand as the cause of poor growth and increased mortality rates in indigenous children.
Stunting or poor growth is when a child experiences low height compared to what is expected for their age. Stunting is basically chronic malnutrition as it is the most apparent attribute resulting from that condition. This can be caused by, in combinations of, general poverty, poor dietary intake, infections cause by diseases, micronutrient deficiencies, sanitary conditions and the inability of the caretaker to provide the child with adequate care such as access to necessary health care services, medication or food The primary factor contributing to these causes is the fact that indigenous groups mainly live in isolated communities, whether it’s because of socio-economical or geographrapical reasons, further restricting the availability of services that would promote improved growth in the children At present, the prevalence of stunting and chronic malnutrition is the best measure for the magnitude of the children’s health and nutritional status.
In addition to stunting, infant mortality rates (IMR) also act as an indicator of the socio-economic conditions indigenous people have to endure due to poverty. According to UNICEF, child deaths are usually caused directly or indirectly by malnutrition 50% of the time. There is a strong correlation between stunting and IMR The difference of IMR and chronic malnutrition in indigenous children of Latin America varies depending on the average country it is being compared to. According to the data UNICEF reported in 2000, Bolivia had the greatest percent (71%) of indigenous people making up their total population and had the highest IMR of indigenous children nationally with 67 deaths (between birth and 1 years old) per 1,000 live births Infant and child mortality rates demonstrate the grievances of infections disease in certain areas. This indicates that the health services being rendered are insufficient. On the other hand, Guatemala suffered the highest reports of chronic malnutrition of indigenous children. Further insight to this issue is that stunted growth and high infant mortality are more likely in children who have grown up in rural areas whereas the average ‘non-indigenous’ children have better growth and mortality rate due to better living conditions from being in more urban areas According to UNICEF, “A child living in a rural area is between 1.5 and 3.7 times more likely to be underweight than a child living in an urban area. Similarly, indigenous children are four time more likely to be underweight than urban children”
Eating a well balanced diet with the proper amount of nutrients is important in the child’s growth, especially at a critical age when their bones needs nourishment to keep growing. Correcting micronutrient deficiencies is therefore imperative in restoring growth and improving health in children with chronic malnutrition. One of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world is iron deficiency According to studies done on iron deficiency, there is an increased requirement of iron in relation to the increased formation of new body mass during times of accelerated growth. Therefore, small infants and pregnant women are especially susceptible to developing this condition due to low dietary intake of iron, low intake of other nutrients that promotes iron bioavailability, and poor iron absorption in the body A severe case of iron deficiency can lead to anemia During this condition, the body is unable to produce mature, healthy red blood cells. The primary function of red blood cells is to carry oxygen throughout the different tissues of the body. Iron is the key ingredient that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen. A secondary function is its involvement in energy production when metabolized by mitochondrial cellsAs a result, having iron deficiency anemia presents with symptoms including shortness of breath and easily fatigued. A further complication with this condition is having a weaker immune system so the individual becomes more vulnerable to infections This is especially difficult for children because it prevents them from participating in physical activities. Some studies also indicate that iron deficiency affects intellectual development, mood regulation and overall school performance of the child
Anemia is more prevalent in children that are from poor families with low socioeconomic status Furthermore, the World Bank refers to indigenous people to be among the poorest and more vulnerable to diseases. Therefore, it is no surprise that indigenous children are more predisposed to developing anemia in consequence to chronic malnutrition. The very first survey on the prevalence of anemia among indigenous children was conducted in 2008-2009 utilizing a sample size of indigenous and non-indigenous children in Brazil for comparison The scholars conducting the study in 2013 found that anemia had an overall prevalence of 51.2%. Indigenous children had twice the pervasive rate for anemia than non-indigenous children Furthermore, they associate anemia with socio-economic factors that contributed to a high risk for anemia such as “lower maternal schooling, lower household socioeconomic status, poorer sanitary conditions, presence of maternal anemia, and anthropometric deficits” The fact that there is a family history of anemia demonstrates the future implications that the child will experience as they grow up and have their own children. Recent studies show increasing concern for this pattern and offer different preventative measures to reduce the prevalence rate of anemia in children
The Quechuan children are especially at high risk of developing anemia because they are easily exposed to parasitic and bacteria infections that may become chronic or recurring, poor sanitation, and limited access to clean water due to dependence on unsafe sources. In addition, residing in high-altitude areas like the Andes Mountains makes them more susceptible to hypoxia, which can be further aggravated by the anemia
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- Child Malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean. United Nations Publication.
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- Leite MS, Cardoso AM. Prevalence of anemia and associated factors among indigenous children in Brazil: results from the First National Survey of Indigenous People’s Health and Nutrition Nutrition Journal. 2013; 12(69): 1-11.
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Plans for Final Paper (Additional information)
- Revisit studies pertaining to Quechua in the Andes and affects of chronic malnutrition – especially how their adaptation may put them at risk for anemia.
- Address preventative measures that will reduce iron deficiency (diet, breast feeding, iron supplementation, food fortification)
- Preventative measures for chronic malnutrition by resolving socio-economic problems caused by poverty – include discrimination and gender equality (women’s increasing influence on health policies?)
- What rights do indigenous people have in Latin America?
- Legal implications necessary to promote the rights of indigenous people in order to improve health service for their children suffering chronic malnutrition