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Common diseases in ParaguayAt the heart of South America, Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in the region. 40 percent of its 6.7 million residents live in chronic poverty. For this landlocked nation full of millions of poor, health care is not at the forefront of government policy, as poverty continues to send the population into crisis. As a result, the country has an unfortunately low life expectancy rate and is plagued with various diseases.

Of the many common diseases in Paraguay, a particular few have been of the most concern in the last several years. Among the top causes of death in Paraguay are coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus, influenza and pneumonia, cancer, kidney disease and hypertension.

The diseases with the greatest impact on the population are intestinal infectious diseases. These viruses, parasites and bacteria result in 107.7 annual years of healthy life lost per 100,000 people. Since 1990, the mortality rate of intestinal infectious diseases has increased by 6.1 percent per 100,000 people. Mostly infants die from these diseases, but the mortality rate peaks again for adult women and men ages 60 to 64. The diseases can be a result of unsafe water, poor sanitation and lack of hand washing. The most deadly of these diseases are caused by typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever.

Other infectious diseases are also common in Paraguay. Lower respiratory infections have a mortality rate of about 28 per 100,000 people. Diarrheal diseases, while common, have had a steady decreasing mortality rate since 1990 — a solid 79 percent decrease. Meningitis and tetanus are also common infectious diseases with decreasing mortality rates, while encephalitis and intestinal diseases remain at a steady infection rate.

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control warned that Zika virus was present in Paraguay. Public health officials reported the virus was being carried and spread by infected mosquitoes, and also warned of the virus’s dangerous lack of symptoms. Pregnant women were at the highest risk, as infection during pregnancy causes harsher symptoms and serious birth defects.

In 2014, the National Eradication Service for Vector-Borne Diseases reported that the vector for the dangerous parasitic Chagas disease was found with increasing frequency in Paraguay. At first it was believed the vector was only found in rural and indigenous areas, but uncleanliness and housing insecurity of other poor areas have caused the vector to find a home between the bricks of houses, which mimic its normal dry habitat. An estimated 165,000 people in the country suffer from chronic Chagas disease. A bite from the protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, can potentially be life-threatening.

The life-saving organization, Doctors Without Borders, has worked recently in Paraguay’s rural Chaco region, educating people in isolated communities about Chagas disease and offering screenings to locals. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls Chagas the “neglected tropical disease” because the vast majority of people affected do not have access to diagnosis or treatment. Most people affected experience symptoms without knowing why. Treatment is rapid and proves to be effective.

According to the WHO, in Paraguay, the probability of dying between the ages of 15 and 60 years is 166 for males and 126 for females per 1,000 people. Additionally, the country’s total expenditure on healthcare in 2014 was 9.8 percent of GDP. If Paraguay’s healthcare system were improved to prevent, treat and educate on disease and illness, many lives could be spared. As for now, organizations like Doctors Without Borders will continue to spread hope and educate on the common diseases in Paraguay which affect a majority of the population.

Olivia Cyr

Photo: Flickr

Poverty StoplightFundación Paraguaya has developed a tool to help families self-assess their poverty level and develop a personalized plan to improve their status.

Named the Poverty Stoplight, the initiative uses technology and various methodologies to create a custom poverty elimination plan, breaking down an overwhelming situation into smaller, more manageable problems and putting families in charge of their situation.

First, families take an online visual survey to determine their level of poverty. They are assessed on six different groups of poverty indicators: Income and Employment, Health and Environment, Housing and Infrastructure, Education and Culture, Organization and Participation and Interiority and Motivational.

Through a technology software developed by Hewlet Packard, each family receives 50 poverty indicators of red, yellow or green (red = extreme poverty, yellow = poverty, green = not living in poverty). For instance, fetching water from a contaminated river is an extreme poverty/red indicator, while having a water faucet in the house is a green/non-poverty indicator.

Trained members under Fundación Paraguaya work with each family based on their strengths and weaknesses in each category. The mentors make families aware of the tools they have within themselves that can be used to build a life out of poverty.

The Poverty Stoplight technology also provides information on neighbors who are not living in poverty and may be able to help them build homes and businesses.

The goal is to disrupt the typical cycles families in poverty go through, improving their status for their children and future generations.

The Paraguayan Government has been using the technology to refocus social workers on the main problems contributing to poverty.

A Google map overlay of Poverty Stoplight families highlights main poverty contributors, such as lack of proper vaccinations, clean water or proper sanitation. This overview allows social workers to provide the proper help to families in need and give them a jump start towards a better life.

Poverty Stoplight has had much success in helping impoverished families build a better life. In its first three years of operation, they have been able to help the welfare of around 18,000 families (92,000 people).

USAID has been a big contributor to the program, providing $500,000 in funding alongside other donors (who donated a total of $1 million). “This replicable project illustrates how relatively small amounts of foreign assistance can generate promising, tangible steps toward reducing poverty,” notes USAID.

Based upon a family’s motivation and the skills they have, a plan can be constructed to not only reduce their level of poverty but to eliminate the poverty cycle altogether. The customization of the project and effectiveness of the technology is what makes Poverty Stoplight as promising as it is.

Casey Marx

Photo: Pixabay