Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the relatively small country, which has less than seven million citizens. The next leading causes of death include influenza, pneumonia, kidney disease, liver disease and lung disease. El Salvador has a relatively high number of healthcare workers but is still not able to meet the needs of the population with its current healthcare system and the unequal distribution of healthcare workers at different levels of service.

It is important to note that the top diseases in El Salvador and the top causes of death are not the same. Violence against citizens and road traffic accidents are among the top ten causes of death in El Salvador.

Regarding infectious diseases in El Salvador, currently, the Zika virus is still a significant risk to pregnant women in or traveling to El Salvador. The primary method of contraction of this disease is through mosquito bites and sexual exposure. However, these mosquitoes cannot usually survive at elevations above 6,500 feet.

Though not everyone who contracts Zika gets sick, sometimes mild symptoms can last for several days. Occasionally Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) will accompany Zika virus, which entails muscle weakness and paralysis for a few weeks to several months. Research suggests the two are associated.  However, it remains unconfirmed due to the minimal amount of people with Zika virus that also contract GBS.

Hepatitis A and Typhoid can both be contracted through contaminated food or water in El Salvador though they are not among the top causes of death in the country. The risk of malaria contracted through mosquitoes is low, and is preventable with bug sprays.

Though El Salvador has struggled to provide adequate healthcare to its citizens in the past, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MSPAS) has made strides in changing things. Most pressing is the disparity between public and private healthcare systems.

Ellen Ray

Photo: Flickr

8 Things to Know About Poverty in El Salvador
El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Central America. After a 12 year civil war and years of unstable leadership, poverty in El Salvador is a concern that greatly affects the over 6 million people living there.

Top 8 Facts on Poverty in El Salvador

Over 25 percent of children below the age of 5 experience extreme poverty in El Salvador and 36 percent of the rural population lives in poverty. Urbanization is a problem developing countries face as cities grow and become a hub for economic, medical and commercial activity. This causes problems for those in rural areas as they have less and less access to resources. Currently, 60.3 percent of citizens live in urban areas, which results in greater poverty for the remaining people outside of cities.

The people of El Salvador are also constantly at risk of facing greater challenges due to natural disasters. World Vision reports that the country “experiences frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity, making it known as the ‘land of volcanoes.” In December of 2013, the Chaparrastique volcano in eastern El Salvador erupted and caused the evacuation of 5,000 people.

Leaf rust has caused problems for the coffee industry in El Salvador, which is an important source of income for the country’s economy. Heavy rain and wind carry rust spores from plantations to other plantations miles away. Bloomberg reports that the 2015 coffee season projections fell from 920,000 to 613,333 60-kilogram bags.

90 percent of the population has access to safe water and 96 percent of children are enrolled in school, though this education may not be effective in preparing children for their future. The U.S. Agency for International Development reports, “Many children and adolescents living in El Salvador face enormous vulnerabilities associated with high rates of crime and gang violence including poor quality education.”

El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the world for youth under 19, reports USAID. InSight Crime cites progress in El Salvador’s mission to reduce the number of violent deaths to a rate more in line with international statistics. In September of 2016, 13.3 percent fewer homicides occurred than the previous year. USAID launched programs whose focus is to stimulate and increase productivity in areas that are at risk, such as rural populations.

The national strategy entitled Plan El Salvador Seguro “addresses security and education opportunities in high crime municipalities.” The strategy involves programs such as Education for Children and Youth at Risk, as well as USAID Bridges to Employment to care for those who are not enrolled in education but need to provide for themselves and their families.

UNICEF Goodwill ambassador and former professional soccer player David Beckham’s new fund “7” launched a campaign in 2015 to end violence against children and poverty in El Salvador. This program is Beckham’s commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable children globally.

Beckham said, “Every day, violence affects thousands of children and adolescents in El Salvador. It’s an outrage – violence in their homes, schools and streets. El Salvador has the highest rate in the world of homicides of children and adolescents and, together, we can change this.”

Rebecca Causey

Photo: Flickr

Education_El Salvador
While education has slowly grown more accessible for El Salvador children since the end of the country’s civil war in 1992, poverty continues to keep children away from classrooms — particularly when reaching secondary school.

In 2013, elementary schools had a 91% enrollment. However, only 50-60% attended secondary school (grades seven through nine). Poverty levels also fluctuated between 30-40% over the past decade, rising to 55% in rural areas.

Poverty conditions often affect academic performance and can cause children to leave school early, as disadvantages faced by families often influence the choice.

Work

El Salvador has child labor laws; it is illegal for children under 14 to have jobs and hours are restricted for anyone under 18. However, about 1.8 million children between the ages of five to 17 work to contribute to their families. Many of these children have to leave school to do so, thus continuing the cycle of poverty.

School Supply Costs

Although secondary education in El Salvador is free, students are required to have uniforms and basic supplies. This cost is often too much for families. Rural students are often unable to attend because they do not have means of transportation to get to even the nearest school.

Resources

School quality varies from region to region It is difficult to encourage students to actively participate in education when schools often are poorly constructed, lack the proper resources and are overcrowded.

Crime

After Honduras, El Salvador has the second-highest homicide rate in the world, fueled by active gangs, drugs and poverty. Children risk becoming either participants or victims of the violence. In this case, both employment and education appear to be part of the solution. Young people who join gangs are often those who do not have the resources to attend school but are unable to find a job in the stagnant economy.

Unregistered Children

Approximately 10% of the population were not registered at birth. This prevents children from becoming citizens or attending public schools in El Salvador. Unregistered children are born to families in rural areas or living on the street. Barring this particularly vulnerable group from education only continues the issues of violence and poverty.

Child Marriage

Legally, girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 15 can marry with parental permission. Twenty-five percent of Salvadorans are married by age 18. Members of a Global group called Girls, not Brides, state that child marriage often ends a girl’s formal education pursuits.

Change on the Way?

Problems with secondary education in El Salvador have been recognized and many are mobilizing to tackle these issues.

El Salvador passed a plan to end child labor by 2020 through the reduction of poverty, protection of children’s rights and improvements to education.

To reduce crime, the government passed a law called National Youth Policy, with the intent to create outlets for young people through education, employment or other constructive participation. Some American organizations like USAID and Tailored for Education have invested in Salvadoran schools to improve resources and infrastructure.

None of these economic or social issues are easy to resolve, but Salvadoran officials believe that with a literacy rate of 97%, high primary school attendance and a low gender gap, there will be a good foundation to make progress.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr

Economic_Central Africa

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing took place on April 19 regarding the Alliance for Prosperity Plan. The five-year initiative for economic development in Central America is the result of a joint partnership between El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States. The partnership intends to address the issues of poverty and violence that lead to the flight of migrants to the U.S.

One of the panel members, Elizabeth Hogan of the Latin America And Caribbean Bureau at the U.S. Agency for International Development, stated,“As you know, social development and economic growth in Central America have been stymied by a dramatic rise in crime and violence — particularly in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.”

According to a roadmap provided by the three countries, the approach will focus on revitalizing the Central American economy by stimulating growth, improving public safety and enhancing social and legal institutions to increase trust in the state.

Major steps to implement the economic strategy include attracting private investment, modernizing infrastructure projects, as well as  promoting the textile, tourism and agricultural industries. Anti-violence measures include strengthening security, promoting social programs and creating transparent public institutions.

The United States Congress required that 25 percent of assistance to the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras be withheld until the U.S. Secretary of State certifies that each government is taking effective steps to combat human trafficking and provide development services for its citizens.

On the part of the United States, the White House has pledged to expand access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for “vulnerable individuals and families” from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Obama Administration is aiming to provide a safer and legal alternative to the dangerous journeys Central Americans are taking at the hands of human smugglers.

Additionally, Mercedes Garcia, a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, warns that to avoid long-term issues, aid must remain focused on empowering citizens rather than creating “precarious employment opportunities, like those offered to unskilled workers by most foreign corporations.”

With continuous monitoring and communication, leaders are hopeful that this alliance can boost economic development in Central America and improve U.S. relations with its neighbors. President Juan Hernandez of Honduras said at a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank,“A peaceful Central America, with opportunities for its people, with justice and security, will be of great benefit not only for our citizens but also for the United States and other peoples of the world.”

Taylor Resteghini

Photo: Flickr

gang violence

In March, El Salvador, a country that has been struggling to reinvent itself since its bitter 12-year civil war between Marxist rebels and the government ended in 1993, experienced the highest levels of gang-related deaths in over a decade.

According to the BBC, March was the deadliest month in El Salvadorian history since the end of the civil war — with over 11 percent of the population engaged in some form of gang-related activity. Much of this violence was, and continues to be, perpetrated by gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street Gang, both of which have origins in Los Angeles, where they were founded by Central American immigrants. Following forced expulsion out of the United States and back to their home countries, these migrants then settled back into life in El Salvador — carving neighborhoods into various gang-controlled territories in the process.

In 2012, El Salvador’s main gangs signed a truce in an effort to end gang-sponsored violence, which initially saw a drop in gang-related death by 40 percent. Since then, however, gang activity has picked up again at an increasingly violent pace. Currently, El Salvador is on the path to becoming one of the deadliest peacetime countries in the world, with roughly 15 homicides occurring every day in the country of six million, according to PBS.

However, since March, there has been a slight decrease in the number of violent incidences. This is thanks to the efforts of private companies, which have begun to recruit former gang members as employees in an effort to help stall the surge of violence currently overtaking the country.

League Central America, for instance, is a private company that works stitching logos onto American University clothing, such as sweaters bound for Harvard and Brown. One out of ten employees at League Central America are former gang members, who mainly hail from the country’s most notorious gangs; the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha.

According to one employee, who went by the name Jorge, “There are lots of former gang members who want to change their lives but [don’t] have a way out…because of the lack of work, the poverty.”

Company boss Rodrigo Bolanos, however, stated that companies can help improve the situation, saying, “In the process of suffocating the economy and the country the private companies need to take a position to look for a dignified way out.”

In light of this, private companies like League Central America are making important strides in starting to help the country battle against increasing rates of homicide, by helping former gang members find a way out of poverty by offering them entrance jobs with the chance of upwards mobility.

Jorge has stated that he is eternally grateful to the company for offering him a way out of the gangs and gang violence — and a new chance at life.

Jorge, who only recently started working at the company, is now the chief pattern cutter.

Ana Powell

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, PBS
Photo: Flickr

Latin_America
According to the U.N., poverty-reduction in Latin America has hit a snag.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC, recently put out an annual report, showing that 28 percent of the region’s population was living in poverty in 2014. Of those 167 million people, 12 percent were living in extreme poverty.

Economic growth in Latin America has slowed recently. The region registered 1.1 percent growth in 2014—its smallest growth rate since 2009. Alicia Barcena, head of the ECLAC, blamed ineffective policy for much of the region’s woes.

“It seems the recovery from the international financial crisis was not taken advantage of sufficiently to strengthen social protection policies that reduce vulnerability from economic cycles,” said Barcena.

ECLAC has called on regional governments to put mechanisms in place that would improve the region’s resilience in the face of global economic downturns.

“Now, in a scenario of a possible reduction in available fiscal resources, more efforts are needed to fortify these policies, establishing solid foundations with the aim of fulfilling the commitments of the post-2015 development agenda,” said Barcena.

While the regional poverty rate has stagnated, some countries, such as Paraguay (from 49.6 percent in 2011 to 40.7 percent in 2013) and Chile (10.9 percent to 7.8 percent), have made significant progress in reducing their poverty rates. Peru (25.8 percent to 23.9 percent), Colombia (32.9 percent to 30.7 percent) and El Salvador (45.3 percent to 40.9 percent) also made positive progress.

ECLAC’s latest report also showed that while the income-based poverty rate has languished in recent years, multidimensional poverty has indeed fallen significantly since 2005.

According to the report, the percentage of the Latin American population living in multidimensional poverty dropped from 39 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2012.

Despite the current state of relative economic stagnation, preliminary ECLAC projections for 2015 suggest that there is cause for optimism, forecasting a 2.2 percent regional increase.

The ECLAC’s Third Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States will be held in Costa Rica, January 28-29.

– Parker Carroll

Sources: Andina, El Universal, Mercopress, Reuters, Telesur 1, Telesur 2,
Photo: Huffington Post

sala negra
Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez is pushing the bounds of traditional media in a project called Sala Negra that seeks to shed light on violence and instability in Central America. His project is an offshoot of digital San Salvador-based media outlet El Faro (elfaro.net,) which claims to be the first exclusively online newspaper in Latin America.

Sala Negra has quickly become the center of investigative crime reporting in Central America. Martínez, the project’s director, says that the reality of Latin America is so complex that in order to get to the bottom of what is happening there, every rule of the traditional media must be broken.

The digital venture, which began in 2010, digs up information on violent events in the region in the hopes of reaching a more thorough understanding of why 2 million Central Americans leave their homes for the United States every year, crossing through Mexico’s treacherous territory and enduring countless other difficulties.

Sala Negra is staffed by five reporters, three photographers and one documentarian. Martínez jokes that the fast food industry would never approve of the project’s pace, as each member of the team works on only five in-depth reports each year. The site is driven by quality rather than quantity.

In 2013, Sala Negra released a book called “Crónicas Negras.” The publication is a compilation of 18 of the best investigative pieces from Sala Negra’s first year. Topics revolve around the gang activity, deportations and civil wars that have caused so much turmoil in modern-day Central America. It thoroughly examines the weak states and strong organized crime networks that cause havoc in the most violent countries in the region – El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.

The strategy of Sala Negra is to move away from fast, sensational news and toward in-depth, investigative reporting. Martínez articulates that this kind of reporting is desperately needed in the region as profound, investigative journalism is extremely scarce, especially in Central America.

In the introduction to “Crónicas Negras,” Sala Negra admits that there are no reliable numbers for those killed in the everyday war being fought in Central America. There are no formal borders, nor does the war have a name. Yet, the text laments, it is the worst war because the people who fight in it have forgotten the value of life for being so in love with death.

Journalists like Martínez and his colleagues at Sala Negra embody honorable, responsible journalism. Their mission is to uncover the truth behind violence and migrant flows in and out of Central America in order to know how to move forward and bring a bit of justice to such a tumultuous area.

— Kayla Strickland

Sources: Sala NegraEl Faro
Photo: Starmedia

Gang_Violence_El_Salvador
The figures are striking: 2,594 murders in El Salvador, with a daily average murder rate of 7.11 in 2012. Since the announcement of a peace agreement between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang and Barrio 18 gangs, the murder rate has fallen slightly to 2,492 murders in 2013, only to rise once again. In December 2013, the number of murders rose to 208 compared to 168 murders in 2012.

What are some of the reasons behind this gang violence in El Salvador? After having a notoriously high murder rate in recent years, the government of El Salvador started a risky peace agreement after years of repressive anti-gang policies. The truce brokered by the government not only promised a halt in recruiting youth from schools but also promised to establish a “peace zone” within 11 municipalities in the country.

Many people have questioned the efficacy of the peace agreement, claiming that by not cracking down on the gangs they are only going to come back stronger. Furthermore, the gangs have stated that if the peace agreement fails they would begin to kill more people. This kind of pressure from the gangs against the government has only served to fuel more resentment from the public who fear the new negotiating power of the gangs.

The peace deal is also facing opposition from both sides of the political spectrum. President-elect Salvador Sanchez Cerén purposefully remained silent on the truce during the presidential elections for fear that promoting it would weaken his support-base. His opponent in the elections, Norman Quijano of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), had stated he would dismantle the agreement if he won the presidency.

Amidst this surge in crime, Church leaders in El Salvador have called on the government to renew the gang truce. Catholic Bishop Fabio Colindres has stated his desire for action on behalf of Church officials in calling for a new peace deal.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: The Economist (1), The Economist (2), Federation of American Scientists