SEATTLE — Alejandro Chavez, a Stanford computer science graduate and Stanford Health Policy research assistant, developed a nutrition surveillance app to help collect child health data and determine the levels of malnutrition in Guatemala for the Guatemala Rural Child Health and Nutrition Program.
Of note, 43.4 percent of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition in Guatemala. Dr. Paul Wise, a pediatrician and Child Health professor at Stanford, created the Guatemala Child Health and Nutrition Program to research and treat child malnutrition in the rural communities surrounding the town of San Lucas.
“The death of any child is always a tragedy, but the death of any child from preventable causes is always unjust,” said Wise in a Stanford News article.
The program focuses on treating children under the age of five, although older siblings and parents are also able to receive care when admitting their child. Every two months the program organizers set up in local community centers to collect data and treat the children.
While the kids wait for their height and weight to be measured, they are given a cup of Incaparina, a supplement of cornmeal, soy and essential nutrients.
The program provides parents with tips for keeping their children healthy as well as additional supplements and care for those suffering from extreme levels of malnutrition. Sixty percent of the Guatemalan population is living in poverty, making it difficult for parents to keep their children well fed and nourished.
However, the problem for many malnourished children is not how much they are eating but if they are receiving essential vitamins and nutrients. Since its onset in 2009, the Child Nutrition Program has decreased nutrition-based mortality by nearly 80 percent and severe child malnutrition by more than 60 percent in the participating communities.
Despite the incredible successes of the program, there have been some setbacks, which resulted in the creation of Chavez’s nutrition surveillance app. The program encourages local Guatemalans to get involved in developing a sustainable health system. In a Stanford News article, Wise stated, “It’s absolutely essential to any program that the people in need be part of the solution.”
Interpreting the detailed graphs on a standard growth chart is essential to identifying child malnutrition. It typically takes health workers three years to learn to graph and understand the data, and a majority of the local Guatemalan population rarely continue their education past the fourth grade.
However, the child nutrition surveillance app reduces training time from three years to only six months. With just six tablets, provided by the Children in Crisis Initiative, Wise and his team can use the app to monitor the 1,500 children involved in the Guatemala Child Nutrition Program.
Looking forward, Chavez told Stanford News that he hopes for the app to be distributed globally, in order to benefit programs reducing child malnutrition in Guatemala and in other countries.
– Kristyn Rohrer