by Lauren Eppinger
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing
The Guatemalan school year has ended, and mobile clinics and educational programs for school children from Primeros Pasos have also ended. All of these initiatives are a part of the healthy school program that Primeros Pasos runs, but only take place during the school year. Now these children are on their own for care and education until the beginning of next year, although the clinic will be open through mid December.
The mobile clinics are extremely useful, because they serve as screening programs for malnutrition, infection, and serious illnesses, and also offer a great educational opportunity for the children. We were able to identify several acute infections, as well as some chronic diseases. Several children with wheezing—and likely asthma—were sent to the clinic for asthma medications. Asthma can be very dangerous if not treated, and referral for proper treatment can save a child's life. Last week I referred a child back to the clinic because of a heart murmur, to run some tests and assess further to ensure that he was not anemic and malnourished. Although I am not sure what the outcome of his situation was, it was important to be able to identify children like this who are at risk of more serious problems, who can be treated.
All of the children are supposed to give stool samples at the schools. This leaves a huge amount of work for the lab to do, checking to see if there are any parasites or signs of bacterial infection, but it is worth it. A couple of days after the initial visit to the school, another group goes back to the school to distribute medicines to all children who were not already treated based on their symptoms. The children are given a bag with their medication (free of charge) and dosing information is written and illustrated for the parents to read. Although many children are treated for intestinal infections based on their symptoms, a significant amount of infections still go untreated until the stool samples are analyzed. Intestinal infections can cause discomfort, malnutrition, dehydration, and impaired growth. Therefore, identifying and treating these infections, even when relatively asymptomatic, is extremely important for a child's health.
Now that school is on break, the clinic will start bringing mobile clinics to the daycares, where pre-school aged children are cared for. Many of these children, like in the elementary schools, have few resources at home. Similar screening and treatment programs are done with these young children. I am excited for the opportunity to continue to work in the community, and identify children in need of treatment. As sad as it is to find a sick child who nobody managed to bring to the clinic, it is rewarding to know that we are able to help.