Guest Post: Fighting for the Health of Women, Children and Community in Guatemala – Access to Health Care #Marchis4Nutrition

In honor of National Nutrition Month in March, 1,000 Days is amplifying the critical role the world’s mothers play in nourishing the next generation through our annual online #Marchis4Nutrition campaign. Throughout the month, we will also be highlighting stories from our partners. Follow along and get involved on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #Marchis4Nutrition.

The National Alliance of Indigenous Women for Reproductive Health (ALIANMISAR) consists of more than 90 organizations and actively participates in citizen monitoring, advocacy, and policy dialogue to promote better, more culturally-appropriate health services that are accessible to the indigenous populations, especially those living in rural areas and in poverty.

Vitalina de Leon Santos is a member of ALIANMISAR in Guatemala. This is her story.

My name is Vitalina de León Santos, I am 45 years old, married to Miguel Ajxup, a construction laborer, I live in the municipality of Momostenango, department of Totonicapán, Guatemala. I am the mother of two girls and a boy. The health of my children is my priority and although my family have scarce resources, I try to give them as much care as possible following the recommendations of the health services.

In 2012, municipality residents encouraged me to join the National Alliance of Indigenous Women for Reproductive Health (ALIANMISAR), which supports the HP+ project with USAID funds, to fight for our reproductive rights. In this organization, I have been involved in the training process that helped me to become aware, first of all, of the need to value myself as a woman and of the importance of my children’s health care. Since I became pregnant with my last daughter, Astrid Mireya Yulisa Ajxup de León 5 years ago, I took everything I learned into account and during my pregnancy I attended the health center to receive prenatal care where I was provided with iron and folic acid which I consumed with full knowledge of its importance. After the birth of Astrid, I gave her exclusive breastfeeding from the first hour of birth until she was 6 months old. I fed myself with cereals and stimulating herbs so that I had enough milk and my daughter was well nourished. After the six months, I have always tried to give her a healthy and nutritious diet.  I also attended the Health Center so that my daughter had her complete immunization schedule, vitamins and deworming medications.

My daughter is 4 years old now and I am very proud because I believe that these efforts have results in her good health, since she has not been malnourished and has not become ill, despite the fact that in my community many children are suffering malnutrition (The chronic malnutrition rate in children under 5 is 52% in Momostenango Municipality, one of the highest in the country).

Now, as ALIANMISAR municipal coordinator, I participate in the meetings of the Municipal Commission for Food and Nutritional Security of Children and Adolescents, as well as the Municipal Development Council, which allows us to advocate for the approval of projects that benefit the health of our people.   This is the case of the extension of the municipal capital health center for weight and height monitoring, which was requested to the municipality in 2017 and is currently being built.

I have also become a counselor about the upbringing and feeding of children in my community, visiting mothers to share the knowledge acquired in ALIANMISAR.

The ALIANMISAR is an organization of indigenous women that ensures compliance with reproductive rights and nutrition, with cultural relevance, through advocacy, monitoring and policy dialogue to promote the formulation and implementation of public policies that contribute to reducing maternal mortality and chronic malnutrition in Guatemala.

Statement on House Appropriations Committee’s Passage of State and Foreign Operations Bill

1,000 Days is grateful to House appropriators for their support of maternal and child nutrition in the Fiscal Year 2018 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The legislation maintains level funding –$125 million – for nutrition in the Global Health Programs account. We appreciate the committee’s support for “effective nutrition interventions to reduce stunting, increase breastfeeding, promote early childhood development, and treat severe malnutrition”, as noted in the accompanying report.

Funding from the nutrition sub-account supports vital services to improve maternal diets; enhance nutrition during pregnancy; promote breastfeeding; and improve infant and young child feeding practices. These and other activities are essential to the goals outlined in the House report.

However, while we appreciate the House bill’s rejection of the Administration’s proposed deep cuts and eliminations to vital programs, and though we recognize the allocation provided the committee was lower than in recent years, we are concerned by the $10 billion cut to the FY18 international affairs topline as compared to the current level. Improved nutritional outcomes require a multi-sectoral response and robust funding across global health, development and humanitarian accounts, as well as sufficient resources to maintain strong technical capacity at USAID and other agencies.

For this reason, it is imperative that the full range of investments are protected and brought to scale so that we can see the tremendous returns possible when contributions from all sources – including the United States – are increased for high-impact interventions: 3.7 million child lives saved, 65 million fewer stunted children, and 265 million fewer women suffering from anemia.

The right nutrition in the first 1,000 days is an investment in ensuring children can reach their full potential and countries can reach their broader economic development goals. We appreciate the committee’s leadership and all Members who have championed greater progress against malnutrition. 1,000 Days looks forward to working with them and their Senate counterparts to ensure sustained and greater gains moving forward.

Proposed Budget Cuts Would Leave Behind The World’s Most Vulnerable, Undermine Our Future

1,000 Days is deeply troubled by the Trump Administration’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018, which, through drastic cuts to lifesaving foreign assistance programs, would hurt the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.  These cuts come at a time when the world is facing a vast crisis of malnutrition and famine that is taking the lives of young children each day.

The Administration’s proposed 28% cut to the foreign assistance budget is simply not in the national interest of the United States. It will not make Americans any safer or more prosperous and will do little to balance our country’s budget. On the contrary, this shortsighted request will ultimately cost American taxpayers more money, requiring more costly interventions in subsequent years to address the destabilizing effect that malnutrition, poverty, and disease have on communities.

Foreign assistance programs, which constitute less than 1% of the federal budget, have outsized impact around the world. U.S. investments to combat global malnutrition deliver proven interventions that save and improve lives and build trading partners for American businesses. Annual GDP losses attributable to malnutrition average 12% in Africa and Asia, eclipsing the GDP losses experienced after the 2008 global financial crisis. But, for every $1 invested in improving nutrition in the 1,000 day window between pregnancy and age two, we see a return of $48 in better health and economic productivity.

To see sustainable gains in nutrition, we must ensure that a multi-sectoral range of programs is protected and, ultimately, grown. This includes bilateral U.S. development investments as well as our country’s contributions to critical multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank. And, to effectively deliver, we must ensure that the expertise of USAID, the U.S. government’s lead development agency, is strengthened.

We look to Members of Congress to continue their remarkable leadership in promoting international development by securing and protecting the FY 2018 International Affairs budget as an investment in our national security and in our future prosperity.