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Malnutrition in Colombia

According to the WHO around 45% of deaths among children younger than five are linked to malnutrition (as of 2022). That is a global total of 3.1 million per year. Vulnerable populations and refugees are at the most risk, and they often fall victim to a cycle of poverty that is hard to escape from. This is also the case for people living in the department of La Guajira in the north of Colombia.

Deilis can laugh again

Deilis Rodriguez Carvallo arrived with her mother, Daniela, and her three siblings to Colombia about a year ago, after a hazardous journey from western Venezuela until arriving at Riohacha, Colombia. Her father stayed behind in Venezuela to continue working, to be able to save enough money to travel. “The small amount of money that José -my husband- made, was barely able to carry us through our various living expenses, including rent, utilities, groceries, and essential medicines for any of the children who got sick. We couldn’t carry on like this, our living situation was critical.   We had no other choice than migrating to Colombia”, says Daniela.

Daniela had just recently given birth to her last son, and with her four kids she settled in what she affectionately calls “el ranchito”, a little cardboard house. After 8 months of being separated, Daniela was reunited with her husband who made the crossing and safely arrived in Riohacha. They have been living in a small house built with recycled material (bags, boards and with a zinc roof), without drinking water and sanitation. During the rainy season, their living conditions pose a threat to their children, who are at heightened risk of getting communicable or respiratory diseases.

José works as a street food vendor and makes enough money to earn half a meal a day, but Daniela is thankful to have a roof above their heads. Deilis has lost her appetite and interest in eating. She had a sad look in her eyes and is mostly silent. Daniela had attributed this to her missing her home, but she didn’t realize this stemmed from malnutrition. Deilis was later diagnosed with an acute diarrheal disease, along with malnutrition, which cause her to also frequently have a fever. She started receiving food kits from Malteser International Americas which started the journey to lead her to nutritional recovery. 

She started to show signs of recovery quickly and her weight became more normal. Malteser International has designed a follow-up plan to keep tabs on the child nutritional status. Our team calls Daniela weekly to check up on her, visit her every two weeks and distribute nutritional supplements and delivers medicines to her door, if required.

A risky pregnancy

Ninorkis Montiel has also fled the political and economic crisis in her home country Venezuela. The single mother of two is expecting her third child. She migrated three years ago to ensure a better future for her children. Despite the struggles and the uncertainty of a life in a different country, she is now settled in Colombia with four generations of her family. She adapted to provide for her family and now makes a living by sewing Wayuu backpacks, a craft that she has picked up and mastered in Colombia and is now teaching her daughter.

During her second trimester her weight dropped, and she started to seek help. She was told her low weight could cause complications to her pregnancy and affect her baby, and she started being supported by Malteser International Americas through nutritional assessments and receiving regular food kits. While she has made progress and is confident in a safe birth, she will continue fostering her relationship with Malteser International Americas and utilize our medical and nutritional services until after the baby is born.



"Receiving food kits and medical care for my malnourishment will make sure my pregnancy is smooth and my baby will be safely delivered. I am thankful to Malteser International for accompanying me during my pregnancy and I will continue to use their services after the baby is born."    

Ninorkis Montiel

Precarious living conditions

The living conditions of the people in the department of La Guajira are still alarming. Thousands have no access to clean water and sanitation. There is a lack of educational and employment opportunities, and the Colombian health system does not have enough resources to meet the medical needs of the refugees. The support of relief organisations like Malteser International is often the only way to combat malnutrition.

December 2022

The program is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office

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