Smarter Snacks, Smarter Students
Most schools have a snack shack where they sell soda, candy, popsickles, chips, and other treats like churros and sweet bread. Even though these snacks are cheap and popular, they are extremely deficient in nutrition. If you’re a concerned parent, nutritionist, doctor, or educator, we are here to ask you for your help. We want to change how schools snack here in Nicaragua. We want to see carrot sticks and apples, milk cartons and healthy options available to a nation’s future adults. If you have cross-cultural experience or have lived in Nicaragua, that’s even better! Remember, what works in America is not always directly applicable to another country… we’re all beautifully and wonderfully made, but express ourselves differently! Please email us your ideas and spark a conversation that could lead to change.
Our local health institutions strive to care for people to the best of their ability. Because of how many patients are seen each day, there is a shortage of medical supplies and basic medicine. Gauze, bandages, ibuprofen, benadril, and other simple medical supplies are always needed. Donating supplies or donating funds to buy them would be blessing our medical care givers and their patients.
Limits of Free Healthcare
As a result of the socialistic structure of healthcare in Nicaragua, everyone in Masatepe has free access to health facilities. For those with health insurance, more medical options are available. For those without medical insurance, the Centro de Salud is a free option. However, for families with tight finances, it is difficult to take the time out of the workday to see the doctor, especially when the wait can sometimes be over two hours. Additionally, because of the price of medicine, many poorer families that are able to see a doctor and get a prescription cannot afford the treatment.
LIMITED RESOURCES OF HEALTH FACILITIES
While the government may have the best intentions to provide free medical care to all of its citizens, the reality is that they simply do not have the financial means to provide quality medical care to everyone. Because of this, many facilities are limited in what they can do for their patients. For example, Angelitos por Siempre (an organization that provides various kinds of therapy for children with disabilities) is limited in the therapies it can provide because they have limited equipment with which to work.
Because finances limit the solutions that health facilities can provide for their patients, they are sometimes forced to choose the “best of two evils.” One example of this is the practice of fumigation. Because of the increase in the mosquito population during the rainy season, there is a significant increase in mosquito-borne diseases such as chikungunya and dengue during the winter months. In order to combat the spread of these diseases, health facilities regularly use thermal fogging to kill the adult mosquito population. (Mosquito larvae remain unharmed.) The reality is that while fumigation may be necessary, finding an alternative solution to fighting mosquitos that does not involve regularly exposing families to chemicals is much more ideal.
As previously mentioned, financial issues often prevent families from being able to afford the medicine required to properly treat illness. For example, because of the nature of free healthcare, the family of a child with the flu can receive medication such as acetaminophen for free through the pharmacy at the health center. However, if any stronger medication is required, it must be purchased at an independent pharmacy and is often quite expensive relative to the family’s income. In the words of a local from Masatepe, “There’s two categories of medicine: medicine that’s free and medicine that we need.”
Some of the health problems Masatepe faces are culturally rooted. The practice of “machismo”, for example, teaches men that it is perfectly acceptable to abuse women, have extramarital affairs, and leave their families. As well as the spiritual and emotional issues that this causes, there are health consequences including everything from the fading bruises of abuse to an incredibly high rate of teen pregnancies. Additionally, many sanitary practices that are taken for granted in other countries are not a part of Nicaraguan culture. This includes things like washing hands after going to the bathroom, covering meat when selling it in the marketplace, or keeping ants out of the kitchen. Smoking is also incredibly common, which is most likely a contributing factor in the high rates of cancer.
Chronic Illness Detection and Management
Diabetes and hypertension are two of the largest obstacles to health in Masatepe. Both diseases often go undetected until more serious complications are noticed, such as blindness or wounds to limbs. Late detection still results in many otherwise unnecessary medical complications, amputations, and even death. Once identified, the education provided to patients about necessary life changes is often seriously lacking. Additionally, patients often do not have the time required to wait at local health centers to have their blood pressure or sugar checked, and as a result, fail to respond appropriately to low or high blood sugar or pressure.
Ironically, despite incredibly fertile soil and a variety of unprocessed, local food sources, Nicaraguan diet is considerably lacking in appropriate nutrients. Beans, rice, and bread make up a large portion of many meals resulting in a diet that is high in carbohydrates and lacking in most other nutrients. Fresh fruits are often available at local markets and accessible to most, but are not a regular part of most meals. Vegetables, which are available in less variety but still accessible, are rarely eaten more than one portion a day. It is not uncommon for mothers to sell fresh fruits and vegetables and then use the money earned to purchase more processed foods for their children. Snacks in school are all high-sugar, highly processed options. While problematic to all, this dietary deficit creates significant issues for children, pregnant women, and those with chronic illnesses like diabetes or hypertension.