Poor health affects how much children can achieve in school. Children who suffer from malnutrition and other health issues have poorer cognitive function, perform worse in school, and miss more days of school due to illness. This leads to higher dropout rates and repetition of grades. Furthermore, if a family member is ill, often a child will experience pressure to earn an income and forego their education.
Health care in Guatemala
To understand the health care situation in Guatemala, it is important to look at factors that influence the health care landscape like population, population density, government spending, and higher education amongst others.
In 2021, the population of Guatemala was over 18 million people with eight million living in rural areas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately nine doctors for every 10,000 people on average. This equates to about 16,000 doctors. In comparison, the State of New York has a similar population and there are more than 53,000 doctors registered in the state.
What’s more, doctors are not evenly located throughout the country. The Borgen Project states that 80% of the doctors work in Guatemala City, leaving rural areas severely underserved at a great disadvantage. USAID states that overall, six million people in Guatemala lack basic health and nutrition services in direct conflict to Guatemala’s constitution, which states that every citizen has a universal right to health care. Unfortunately, health care spending in Guatemala and other Central American countries remains low compared to the United States which invests 7,000 dollars on health care per person.
According to recent data from Macrotrends, Guatemala spends $260 on healthcare per person in comparison to Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, and Costa Rica which spend $176, $286, $289, and $910 on health care per person, respectively.
The intersection of poverty and health care
Poverty affects every part of a family’s life. The average income for a family in Common Hope’s program is $200/month, or $2,400 annually. This level of poverty affects physical, nutritional, and mental health.
Guatemalans living in rural areas often have to travel long distances to receive care which in itself is costly. A day of traveling to receive health care is not affordable when it means a day of work must
be missed. If a day of work is missed, it is common for it to be unpaid.
- In Guatemala, 1 in every 2 children suffers chronic malnutrition. In rural areas, 70% of children under five years old suffer from stunting (low height for age) due to malnutrition.
- Many Guatemalans die of preventable diseases and illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhea, and malnutrition. It is common for people to live years with problems like dental pain or a hernia—conditions that can be easily treated.
- Infant mortality rate is among the highest in Central America
- Community health education, particularly in rural areas, is not typical. Many Guatemalans experiencing poverty do not have access to information in order to make informed decisions regarding their health.
Common Hope seeks to reduce the risk of family health crises that threaten a child’s ability to stay in school through curative, preventative, and general wellness services.
At Common Hope’s clinic and through health partners in surrounding communities, Common Hope students and their family members have access to quality curative and preventative health care including doctor visits and wellness exams, laboratory screenings, medications at the pharmacy, nutritional services, dental care, and prenatal care. Common Hope health care staff provide treatment from everything from common respiratory issues to infections to minor injuries and emergency care. Chronic disease treatment is provided for issues like hypertension and diabetes. Doctors also refer to specialists when necessary and treatment comes at reduced or no cost to the patient.
Common Hope social workers meet regularly with each family and refer them to visit the clinic if any health-related issues are identified. Common Hope’s goal is to help families address short-term needs so they can achieve long-term goals of a better life. Together, we are working to make health care accessible for families in Guatemala.