By David Kelly | University Communications
The construction of a $1 million medical facility in an impoverished corner of Guatemala is slated to begin in March, marking the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s first long-term presence in a developing nation.
Physicians and students from CU spent last July in the region assessing the health needs of the population, doing physicals and testing children for parasites and anemia.
They found cases of kidney disease, infections and malnutrition. Ten-year-olds looked like 6-year-olds, tiny with matchstick arms. Scrawny dogs poked their heads inside makeshift clinics looking for scraps of food before drifting off.
“What we are seeing is a chronic cycle of poverty,” said Edwin Asturias, MD, director for Latin America at the Center for Global Health, part of the Colorado School of Public Health, who led the team. “And poor health care goes hand-in-hand with poverty.”
Working in punishing heat and often primitive conditions, they found that 60 percent of the children they examined under age five suffered delays in fine motor skills and problem solving. Between 40 and 50 percent had anemia, a sign of malnutrition.
“We are not doing what we think they need, but finding out what they actually need,” said Asturias, a pediatrician who grew up in Guatemala.
The project is being funded by a $1 million donation from the Jose Fernando Bolaños Foundation run by a Guatemalan family that owns banana and palm oil plantations in the region.
The money will pay for a clinic, research lab, living quarters and conference center on a 10-acre swath of banana plantation. CU health care professionals will rotate through the facility treating the 3,000 plantation workers and caring for the 24,000 people living in the surrounding villages. The CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning has designed phase one of the project.
“This represents a great and unique partnership between a private Guatemalan company and a public university in the U.S.,” Asturias said. “And in the end, everyone will benefit.”
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CU Medical team assesses health needs in rural Guatemala