Responding to the needs of migrants and people living with chronic kidney disease
MSF provides medical services at a shelter set up for people affected by the eruption of the Fuego volcano
On May 5, 2023, the Fuego volcano erupted. On the same day, more than 1,000 people were evacuated from surrounding communities. In response to a call from the authorities, MSF arrived in Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, Escuintla, to provide support to some 400 evacuees. At the emergency shelter, our team provided more than 80 medical consultations to children and older adults, as well as psychological first aid, especially to children and women of childbearing age.
After assessing the emotional situation of the people, the psychology staff and educators developed activities of instruction, active listening, emotion management and emotional discharge, especially aimed at the younger population.
In response to the needs identified, MSF delivered personal hygiene kits to 125 people and packages of disposable diapers to mothers with children under 5 years of age. As the volcano's activity has returned to normal, MSF teams have completed their support.
Our work in Guatemala
In 2021, MSF launched two new projects, including one focused on addressing high levels of chronic kidney disease and another to assist migrants and people recently deported from Mexico and the United States.
What's happening in Guatemala?
Guatemala has the highest number of kidney patients in Latin America. Many people suffer specifically from a chronic kidney disease of non-traditional origin, also known as Mesoamerican Nephropathy (MeN). The disease affects the kidneys’ ability to perform vital functions such as ridding the body of waste and toxic substances. MeN is endemic in Central America and has caused tens of thousands of deaths in the region in the last two decades.
Our teams are also responding to the need for medical care and support for migrants in Quetzaltenango and along the border with Mexico. People on the move are particularly in need of mental health services and protection from violence.
How we're helping in Guatemala
We launched our Mesoamerican Nephropathy (MeN) project in 2021 to address the high levels of chronic kidney disease in the country. Every year, 162 new patients requiring dialysis therapy are registered, and there are currently more than 9,000 patients undergoing renal function replacement treatment, according to the Latin America Dialysis and Transplant Registry. MeN is typically asymptomatic until the advanced stages, so it may go undetected until someone feels very ill. Many patients require urgent dialysis treatment as soon as they are diagnosed.
Our team works in three municipalities in Esquintla department (La Democracia, La Gomera, Sipocate), an area almost entirely dominated by large-scale agriculture. The main activities of the project are early detection of cases, patient care, and health promotion. We also have an advocacy strategy to improve diagnosis and care as we accumulate data and field experience.
The project was initially delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We started community screening and health promotion activities in August 2021, and had tested nearly 600 people by the end of the year. A key component of the project is working with community leaders and organizations. Our team is considering different operational research topics that could support our advocacy to improve detection and treatment for chronic renal problems in Guatemala.
In October 2021, we started another new project, based in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second-largest city, which focuses on assisting migrants. We deploy two mobile teams, consisting of a doctor, a psychologist, a social worker, a health promoter, a team manager, and a driver, to different sites in San Marcos and Huehuetenango departments, where they provide a range of services to cater for the needs of people on the move, whether traveling north towards Mexico and the US, or returning home, such as the large numbers of deported Guatemalans.
In addition, we support local health centers serving people who live in this border area. Like all MSF activities in Central America, the project has a strong advocacy component, mainly targeting repressive US migration policies and calling for greater access to care, particularly mental health services, and protection from violence for migrants.
Between August 2021 and June 2022, MSF carried out 2,376 screenings to detect MeN, reached 3,030 people in community activities, and provided multidisciplinary follow-up to more than 106 people who are in the most advanced stages of the disease.
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