Wuqu' Kawoq

Wuqu' Kawoq's mission is to address the barriers to excellent health care that the majority of Guatemala's indigenous Maya population face, including principally the lack of access to health care in their own languages. As such, Wuqu' Kawoq develops primary care and health programs within a larger context of community vitality, family stability,and Mayan language revitalization.
Apr 16, 2012

Phase 2 of Construction Under Way!

Dear Friends: 

Thanks to the generosity of your donations, we have now been working and seeing patients in the first completed clinic building for several months! This has been such a major boon to our clinical work, as the well-lit and ventilated space allows for much more accurate and comfortable patient assessment in the tropical heat. We finally have reliable electricity and water installed as well, so things are operating at 100% capacity. 

In the last few weeks, we also broke ground on the second phase of the construction. As you may remember from my previous project updates, the first phase of the construction finished the major clinical and patient care areas. However, since a lot of what we do in these communities is focused on education of parents and community leaders, we feel like it is important also to have space for classes and other large group activities. Therefore, the second building, which is being constructed right next to the first, will contain an open space suitable for these activities. It will also have a separate attached office for our social workers, which will permit them to safely store records and conduct interviews in private with families. 

I am attaching a few photos that show this second phase of the construction getting underway!

As always, thanks for your ongoing support for this project. As a reminder, GlobalGiving is conducting a special Mother's Day campaign from May 1-13. All donations made to this project (or to our other projects, here or here) "in honor of" a loved one during this time will make us eligible for additional funds! 

Also, if you are interested in signing up for more regular updates on our work in Guatemala, click here.


Mar 1, 2012

Pictures of Staff at Work!

Cristalina making child growth entries.
Cristalina making child growth entries.

Dear Friends, 

I am writing you again from Guatemala, where I have spent the last several days visiting our projects. This is just a short update, whose purpose is mostly to post a few pictures of our staff hard at work!

In most of the updates we have made to this project so far we have talked about the needs of the children we are serving and about the nutritional product, Plumpydoz, that we are using. However, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the hard work of our staff, whose compassion, commitment, and dedication make our programs a success. 

Community based nutritional programs like ours require multiple levels of staff in order to run smoothly. At the most local level, we work with women's cooperatives, who coordinate most of the program logistics, such as distributing nutritional products and medications, measuring children's heights and weights, and noting down data in medical records. These women's groups are closely supported by our nursing staff, who help with triaging patients and who also lead educational sessions about nutrition and other health topics.

In the first picture, you can see Cristalina, one of our community leaders hard at work; she has just finished weighing and measuring children and she is recording their data for the medical team to review. In the second picture, you can see Herlinda, one of our nurses, together with Carolina, another community leader; they are just about to take off to make some house calls on some of our most malnourished children. 

Finally, all children in our programs receive medical attention directly from our physician staff. This is done collaboratively with our nursing staff and with the community leaders, who always know the child's individual situation very well and provide expert advice on how to achieve our nutritional goals for each child. In the final picture, you can see our nurse Herlinda together with Dr. Cesar and myself carefully reviewing the growth of a particularly complicated case, trying to figure out how best to help the child out.

Thanks for listening!

Herlinda and Carolina making house calls.
Herlinda and Carolina making house calls.
Herlinda, Cesar, and Peter discussing a case.
Herlinda, Cesar, and Peter discussing a case.


Feb 14, 2012

Nutrient Supplements for Children!

Dear Friends, I recently wrote a piece on "New Nutrition Supplements for Children" for an online global health clearinghouse website. Since one of those "New Nutrition Supplements" is Plumpy'doz, the distribution of which you have been supporting in Guatemala with your contributions to this Globalgiving Project, I thought you might like to read some excerpts (see below!). Also, check out the pictures I am uploading here of Plumpy'doz distributions and the links below to some videos of the same. As always thanks for your support!


Lipid based nutrient supplements (LNS) are perhaps one of the most exciting, and potentially transformative emerging technologies for the treatment of chronic malnutrition. LNS preparations are called ‘lipid-based’ because, unlike older nutritional formulations, they derive a much larger percentage of their calories from fats (typically from peanuts, milk, and vegetable oils). They also generally contain a full complement of vitamins and micronutrients. Because they are fat-based, these micronutrients may be more easily absorbed by the body (they are not bound up by plant phytates which are abundant in grain-based nutritional supplements). They also provide essential fatty acids, whose importance for promoting healthy growth and brain development is more and more appreciated today.
Most people have heard of at least one type of LNS product, Plumpydoz®, which has revolutionized the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in many countries throughout the world. Plumpydoz® is classified as a therapeutic food, meaning that it is extremely dense in calories and is essentially meant to be used in a situation where aggressive ‘refeeding’ is necessary. Since the product has a long shelf life, does not require mixing or cooking, and is tasty, it has produced a paradigm shift in the treatment of severe malnutrition. Previously, most cases of severe malnutrition needed to be hospitalized, often simply because the mixing and preparation of refeeding solutions was complex and required special tools and training. Plumpydoz® uncomplicates this process, which means that refeeding can happen in the home and in rural communities.

What many people do not know, however, is that new research has led to the development of a range of other LNS products, which are lower in calories while still providing a full complement of micronutrients. These products include some which provide a medium amount of calories (Plumpydoz® is one example) and some that provide a small amount of calories (Nutributter® is an example). These are very welcome developments, because they could potentially be used in development settings where chronic malnutrition, rather than acute malnutrition, is the norm. Chronic malnutrition, is generally a smoldering illness which affects a child over months to years and, until now, we haven’t really had any very effective tools for dealing with it. Using Plumpynut® for treating chronic malnutrition would be sort of like using a fire hose to put out a candle.

This isn’t to say that the ‘candle’ of chronic malnutrition is something to sniff at. There are many more children in the world with chronic malnutrition than with acute malnutrition. Whereas acute malnutrition puts a child at immediate and obvious risk of death, chronic malnutrition consumes their biological and social potential in a slow, insidious way. Chronically malnourished children are shorter than their peers. They have more frequent episodes of diarrhea and respiratory illness. They have slower intellectual development and lower IQs. They are less likely to complete school. As adults, and are more likely to be unemployed or to have low paying jobs. Perhaps most horrifying of all, chronic malnutrition as a child greatly increases the risk of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes in adulthood – directly contributing to the rising epidemic of these disease in the developing world.

Exactly how to combat chronic malnutrition with LNS formulations is not entirely worked out yet. There are some positive studies; for example, this study showed that the rates of severe chronic malnutrition could be reduced by supplementation with a Nutributter® like product in children in Malawi. However, the factors which influence and maintain chronic stunting vary significantly from environment to environment. For example, in Malawi chronic malnutrition is greatly influenced by seasonal food insecurity and cyclical droughts; in this type of setting, it is common for there also to be a lot of acute malnutrition. On the other hand, in Guatemala (which has the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the Western hemisphere), there is no seasonality to malnutrition patterns; here, malnutrition is clearly related more to endemic racism and lack of access to basic medical care and only more obliquely to food production patterns and food insecurity. In short, what might work in one context to treat (or prevent) chronic malnutrition might not work somewhere else.

Clearly, there is exciting and important work to be done. In Guatemala, we have been working at Wuqu’ Kawoq with both medium calorie and low calorie LNS products. For example, we have been using Plumpydoz® in 5 different communities for about 12 months now. In these communities, the Plumpydoz® seems generally well accepted with decent uptake and utilization. In the cohort of the most severely stunted children, height recovery also seems to be progressing nicely. Most mothers also report reductions in rates of acute illness in their children. We are conducting a prospective analysis of the growth data in these communities over the next several years, which we hope will bear out these observations. Potentially the great advantage of a medium calorie preparation is that it could provide some nutritional boost to children who are already malnourished at the start of a program, and this is the hypothesis we are exploring – that Plumpydoz®, or another product like it, can provide both prevention of malnutrition onset in the youngest children but also some recuperation in older, already-malnourished children.


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