LIMA, Peru — Over the past decade, Peru has made some tremendous strides in terms of economic development and social programming. Poverty and unemployment rates continue to fall as Peru’s economy contends to be one of the most productive in Latin America. For children under five, malnutrition in Peru was cut in half from 28 percent in 2008 to 13.1 percent in 2016. By most accounts, Peru is on an upward trajectory of improvement that will help break the cycle of poverty and increase the quality of life for its citizens.
Successes in Treating Childhood Malnutrition
In 2005, Peru launched the conditional cash transfer program called “Juntos,” meaning “Together” in Spanish. The goal of the program was to end multigenerational poverty and its effect on health. Backed by the World Bank, Juntos supplied recipient families with approximately $30 each month so that young children could get regular growth checkups and nutrition information. The program targeted rural regions where poverty and malnutrition were high. As a result, chronic childhood malnutrition in Peru dropped to 25.2 percent in 2015 down from 47.9 percent in 2009 in areas where Juntos targeted.
The steps Peru has taken to address issues of poverty and malnutrition are admirable, and the success of such programs cannot be denied. There are, however, certain demographic groups that remain at high risk for child malnutrition and anemia. These groups include communities located in remote mountain and jungle regions and indigenous populations.
Remote Mountain and Jungle Regions
Home to parts of both the Andes mountain range and the Amazon rainforest, Peru has a diverse terrain. This can make it difficult for remote communities to receive adequate support and information about childhood malnutrition. Using spatial analysis, one 2016 study found that while malnutrition in Peru is declining overall, 17.2 percent of Peruvian districts still recorded a high prevalence of child malnutrition and anemia. These districts were primarily located in the jungle and Sierra (Andes) regions of the country. In the mountainous region of Huancavelica, the prevalence of chronic child malnutrition was more than 30 percent.
The World Food Programme also recognizes that despite an overall positive trend, there is still a great deal of variation in the different locations around Peru. In some “remote rural areas in the Sierra and Amazon regions,” malnutrition can reach as high as 33.4 percent. A persistent commitment to the distribution of nutritional resources and information is required if isolated communities are to see significant improvements in malnutrition reduction.
In 2015, a study published in PubMed investigated the nutritional differences between indigenous and non-indigenous children in the remote areas of the Peruvian Amazon. The results showed that the indigenous population recorded a higher prevalence of both malnutrition and anemia in children under five despite both groups living in relatively isolated locations.
Specifically, 56.2 percent of the indigenous children and 21.9 percent of the non-indigenous children suffered from chronic malnutrition. The percentage gap concerning anemia was smaller but still telling. An average of 51.3 percent of indigenous children and 40.9 percent of non-indigenous children were recorded as anemic. In 2018, 38 percent of indigenous Peruvian children were malnourished.
Importance of Education
The misinterpretation of indigenous growth patterns is just one example of why some parts of Peru need better access to nutritious food as well as education surrounding the issue of childhood malnutrition. Generally speaking for both rural and indigenous Peruvians the quality of education is much lower than for their urban and non-indigenous counterparts. When it comes to anemia and malnutrition in Peru, widespread knowledge on the issue can make all the difference.
It is for precisely this reason that Ellen, a Peace Corps Peru volunteer, has been working with a mountain community to spread awareness about chronic infant malnutrition. As a Community Health Promoter, it is Ellen’s job to work with the health centers to train other members of the community in how to mitigate malnutrition and anemia. Her position involves developing programs, creating projects and coordinating with all facets of the community from the schools to the local authorities. She is working to holistically tackle nutrition-related issues.
When the Borgen Project asked how her role has impacted the community, Ellen responded, “I am focused on sustainable projects. This means that I work with community members and try to bridge connections between them and the health center to help address a concern or relay an idea to the appropriate person.” Education is, therefore, an agent of sustainability. Ellen’s work will ensure that when she eventually leaves her host community, the residents will be equipped to maintain positive changes and reduce chronic malnutrition with little outside intervention.
Other Measures being Taken
Results in Nutrition, an extension and continuation of the Juntos program, is part of a collaboration between the World Bank and the Peruvian government. It recognizes malnutrition in Peru as a complex issue related to other health concerns such as infectious disease and low birth rate. The new program focuses its Juntos initiatives on infants younger than 12 months. This ensures adequate nutrition and care practices are present during the crucial first 1,000 days of an infant’s life. Results in Nutrition also helped reform the country’s healthcare system with the support of the Results and Accountability Development Policy Loan.
In addition to programs like Juntos and Results in Nutrition, Peru has come up with some ingenious ways to spread information about nutrition. For example, a 13-episode reality television show called “Cocina con Causa” features young chefs visiting households around Peru to teach families how to use recipes and local produce to fight malnutrition and anemia. The show is backed by the World Food Programme, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Inclusion.
With a combination of health and educational programs, it is possible to reduce malnutrition in Peru. These programs have the ability to decrease chronic malnutrition in even its most remote areas. Now that Peru has succeeded in reducing malnutrition in urban regions, it is time to bring more attention to rural and indigenous populations.
– Morgan Johnson