SEATTLE — Mosquito-borne illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases and cancers are the most common diseases in El Salvador. In the past, mosquitos have been a major problem in El Salvador, where Chikungunya fever, dengue and Zika ravaged the area, leading to 117,636 cases of the three mosquito-borne illnesses in 2014. From 2014-2016, these diseases continued to be a major threat, with the government declaring a national yellow alert.
Zika is a virus that is primarily transmitted through a bite from Aedes aegypti mosquitos and can lead to birth defects as severe as brain abnormalities. The CDC has recommended that travelers and citizens should practice enhanced precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites, which can be done by going above 6,500 feet in elevation and using mosquito nets at elevations lower than 6,500 feet. The government has also advised against pregnancy in the areas that have infected mosquitos. While this solution is controversial, it may be the only way to prevent a widespread epidemic from taking hold in El Salvador.
However, mosquito-borne viruses are not the only common diseases in El Salvador. Ischemic heart disease, chronic kidney disease and upper respiratory infections are also major issues in El Salvador, with the nation being among the top five in its region for the most citizens with chronic kidney disease. The most common causes of chronic kidney disease include diabetes and high blood pressure.
Poor nutrition accounts for many of the health problems El Salvador’s citizens face and is a leading cause of death. The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) found that two percent of children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, and 51 percent of children under the age of one who live in rural areas suffer from anemia and iron deficiency. Since poor children start their lives with poor nutrition, it leads to lifelong problems such as chronic kidney disease and ischemic heart disease. Poor nutrition also results in weaker immune systems, leading to the high prevalence of upper respiratory infections.
One way to help decrease the harm of common diseases in El Salvador is to improve the eating habits of its citizens. The El Salvadorian government is committed to improving nutrition in several ways: by decreeing a Policy on Food and Nutrition Security and developing a Nutrition Care and Early Childhood Development strategy. The Nutrition Care and Early Childhood Development Strategy focuses on improving nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, so they have a better chance of maintaining a healthy diet and healthy body. The WFP has even implemented a program called Nourishing El Salvador, which works to support the government’s efforts. However, although these efforts are important, they only reach 28 percent of municipalities. This effort needs more support in order to increase its coverage.
For now, the government is taking a step in the right direction to decrease the occurrence of the most common diseases in El Salvador. Overall, progress is being made — and there is hope that malnutrition will continue to decline in the future.
– Rachael Blandau