Countering Malnutrition in the Dominican Republic

by Ed Jopeck

Medical Missionaries continued its efforts to reduce hunger and improve health and nutrition in the Dominican Republic with a multi-faceted trip to the Province of Elias Piña (towns of Banica and Pedro Santana) in June 2016. This unique trip included distribution of hundreds of boxes of USAID-supplied food (protein and vitamin-enriched soup), and included clinics that provided nutritional assessment and basic medical services to some 300 people in the region.

The trip began on June 26 when four Medical Missionaries volunteers from the Washington, D.C area met with two USAID representatives at the US Embassy in Santo Domingo before driving 160 miles across the country to Medical Missionaries’ warehouse near the border with Haiti. Once there, the team prepared to distribute food, conduct clinics addressing medical and nutritional needs over the next few days, all while being observed and photographed by USAID representatives.

In Banica the US-based team linked-up with local counterparts already in the province (American Catholic Priest Fr. Keith O’Hare, Brazilian Nun, Sister Gracias, Medical Missionaries project manager Tom Brock, and local driver “Nañao” Cedano). Over the course of the next week the team traveled to the remote villages of Pueblo Nuevo, Guayahayuco, and Hato Alto to conduct medical clinics and assessments designed to better understand the nutritional and medical needs of the people in these remote areas where medical services are out of reach for most residents. The team was generously assisted at these locations by a variety of US Peace Corps representatives who live and work in those villages.

“The clinics were part of a larger program to collect data to help improve the impact of food aid and medical services activities in the country,” said Ed Jopeck who manages the USAID food aid program for Medical Missionaries. Each year that a grant is awarded to Medical Missionaries, USAID provides 112 metric tons of the shelf-stable, prepackaged food aid and some funds to support its distribution. The food aid, generously provided through USAID as a gift of food from the American people, fills six full shipping containers and provides approximately 7 million meals to 11,000 people over the course of 9-10 months. The clinics, which included an assessment of dietary habits of the attendees, revealed that many people eat only once a day, some depending solely on the USAID soup to feed their family. Others who ate more frequently reported the donated soup was their main source of nutrition for two, or even three meals a day.

While the clinics were ongoing, parts of the team continued the delivery of food to remote villages in the mountainous region to the north. The scenery in the mountains was breath-taking but the rock and dirt roads were punishing on both the vehicles and those inside them. The trips to the mountains during the rainy season are difficult and frequently result in flat tires and routinely getting stuck in the mud. This trip was also packed with visits to farms where the team learned more about new agriculture and livestock programs, challenges with water delivery and treatment, and other needs that Medical Missionaries also seeks to address.

The team is pleased to report that the food aid really seems to be making a positive difference in the lives of the Dominicans and Haitian refugees living in this remote region along the border. “Yes, more needs to be done to further improve health, access to safe water and economic growth in the region”, said Jopeck, “It is the volunteers and the work on trips like this that help us to know where our efforts can have the greatest impact on the needs of the good people here.”

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