Date: Wed, 15 Dec 1999 18:45:05 -0600 (CST)
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
UNICEF Rates Guatemala Last in Region
By Celina Zubieta, IPS, 14 December 1999
GUATEMALA CITY, Dec 14 (IPS) - Guatemala's children face enormous challenges to their development, resulting in some of the worst social statistics in Central America, says the latest United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report.
Guatemala has the region's highest infant mortality rate, according to UNICEF's State of the World's Children 2000. An average of 52 Guatemalan children under age five die each year for every 1,000 live births, compared to 16 per 1,000 in Costa Rica, 34 in El Salvador, 44 in Honduras and 48 in Nicaragua.
For the Latin American region, Bolivia has the worst rate at 85 deaths per 1,000 live births. Sierra Leonne reports the world's highest infant mortality rate with 316 deaths for every 1,000 births.
Guatemala reports equally discouraging indicators in other areas as well. It has the lowest average birth weight, and highest maternal mortality rate in the region, according to the UNICEF document.
Life expectancy at birth in Guatemala is just 64 years, versus an average of 78 years in industrialised countries.
Mortality in the first five years of life, especially during infancy, is one of the health indicators used most in evaluating the general living conditions of a given population.
Guatemala's 36-year internal armed conflict, which ended in 1996, claimed more than 200,000 victims and is one explanation for Guatemala's poor showing on child-related issues.
Sociologist Edelberto Torres-Rivas affirms that 18 percent of the victims of the nation's civil war were children, and most died because they did not receive adequate medical attention.
"Children joined the war as soldiers, and children were assassinated, but the most serious problem are the survivors of the tragedy, children or direct descendants of the victims, orphans of the 'disappeared'," Torres-Rivas explained.
Helen Mack, director of the foundation named after her sister Myrna, an anthropologist assassinated by the military in 1990, affirmed that "the atrocities committed during the war are still being felt by the children."
Elizabeth Gibbons, UNICEF representative in Guatemala, has called on non-governmental organisations and civil society to push for policies that benefit children.
Even though the 1996 peace treaty and expanded education and health services have achieved some advances, said Gibbons, efforts clearly have been inadequate.
She pointed out, for example, that Guatemala has one of the highest illiteracy rates in Latin America, reaching nearly 30 percent.
Torres-Rivas added that in addition to health coverage, health services themselves must be improved.
Ernesto Velesquez, director of the Public Health Ministry's Infant-Maternal Support Programme, stated that the major health problems Guatemalan infants face are malnutrition, respiratory infections and diarrhea.
Guatemala's 1995 National Survey on Maternal and Infant Health showed that 50 percent of children under age five reach adolescence with chronic malnutrition, resulting in stunted growth. (END/IPS/tra-so/cz/dg/ld/99)
Origin: Montevideo/CHILDREN-CENTRAL AMERICA/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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