Chronic child malnutrition spreads in Ecuador

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Chronic child malnutrition spreads in Ecuador

Sara Milena is barely 20 days old in QUITO, Ecuador. Her mother, Tania Herrera, lives with her parents, who earn $5 to $7 a day in an Ecuadorian household to feed five adults and support the new arrival.

The income is stretched in hopes of feeding the adults twice a day: coffee with bread, when there is any, and a plate of rice at night, or maybe not.

The family has lived in Cotopaxi, originally from the Andean province of Cotopaxi, and only manages to buy chicken meat from time to time. The baby is breastfed.

Erwin Ronquillo, secretary of the government program Ecuador Grows Without Malnutrition, said child malnutrition is chronic among Ecuador's 18 million inhabitants. He said it is seen everywhere but hardest hits in rural areas and among the country's indigenous peoples.

After Guatemala, Ecuador has the second highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in Latin America. According to the United Nations Children's Fund, one in three Ecuadorian children suffers from malnutrition. 40.7 per cent of them are indigenous, though 7 per cent of the population is made up of indigenous people. Learning is affected in more than a fifth of the malnutrition cases.

Neiri Espinosa, a mother abandoned by her partner who lives in Quito's remote Pisul neighbourhood, said her children, 4 and 8 years old, do not usually eat meat. Both seem to be younger because of their short stature and the thinness of the youngest girl, telltale signs of malnutrition.

They can afford a bit of chicken, but not often, according to Espinosa.

She said it is hard to get a job as a domestic worker after the Pandemic.

Monica Cabrera, a family educator with the Ministry of Social Inclusion, is assigned to the Camal Metropolitano neighbourhood on the southern edge of Quito, a high-risk area where she has been robbed several times. She visits the homes of at least 25 young mothers, among whom are two minors, aged 15 and 17 years old. Her job is to support them while they are in their maternity process and then until the child reaches 1 year old.

Cabrera said the poorest in the city are indigenous migrants from rural areas who make their livings by recycling trash, making bricks or working as street vendors.

She said that those who have more have the luxury of eating twice a day have the luxury of eating twice, but she says she knows of families that eat only once and sometimes not even that.

In its latest report, UNICEF said that 50 per cent of Ecuadorian households with children had difficulty getting the necessary food in 2021 due to the Pandemic. The agency said that 27 per cent of children had their development compromised due to chronic malnutrition.

In addition to the lack of food, 72.3 per cent of children don't have basic services for child development, such as health and education, according to UNICEF.