Program offers Venezuelan children free checkups, supplements amid economic crisis

Mother says son is malnourished even though she skips meals to feed him

By Cody Weddle

CARACAS - A preschool in Caracas, Venezuela, has become an epicenter for measuring the effects of the country's economic crisis, specifically the levels of malnutrition in children.

By weighing, measuring and offering general check-ups, volunteers and doctors investigate the effects of food and medicine shortages in children under five.

Mileidi Berdu, who volunteers at the preschool, brought her 2-year-old son in to get checked out. 

She said she and her husband started skipping meals about a year ago so their son, Elias, could eat.

"We couldn't tell our kids that there wasn't food," she told reporter Cody Weddle. "We tried to make sure they didn't realize."

But despite their best efforts, the portions and types of foods they were able to find wasn't enough, and Elias was showing signs of malnutrition.

"He would stand beside other kids, and I started to notice that he was very skinny and little," Berdu said.

The weekly check-ups are being offered by Caritas de Venezuela, a program provided by the Catholic Church.

The program aims to identify children in high risk areas who are showing signs of malnutrition and also to offer parents tips and nutrients to keep their children healthy.

Some of the first figures produced from the program showed alarming rates, including that 9 percent of children were found with acute, severe malnutrition and  54 percent showed some signs of malnutrition.

Nutritionist Susana Rafalli oversees the project.

"It's almost six children out of 10 that we measure that's facing a nutritional damage," she said. "That puts them in a very high risk of dying."

The supplements handed out to parents are full of vitamins and nutrients, and thankfully, many of the children said they like the taste of the supplements as well.

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