Testing for Lead in Guatemala
Because 60 percent of Guatemalans live in poverty, it is extremely difficult for many families, especially families in more rural communities, to access quality, reliable health care. Pop Wuj Clinic in Xela, Guatemala, provides a large population in the city of Xela and its surrounding communities with free and much-needed medical services.
Lead poisoning is a huge problem in Guatemala, as many everyday items—pots, pans, cooking utensils, house paint, and other items—contain it and are used often. Lead is in the soil, lead dust can be found in certain streets, and individuals can be exposed to it in the workplace. Common symptoms of lead exposure include upset stomach, loss of appetite, headache, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, nausea, diarrhea, miscarriage, and infertility. Many of these symptoms are easily mistaken or attributed to other issues and can even be mostly ignored; however, the lead within will severely damage the body, preventing it from absorbing nutrients, corroding mental function, and limiting its ability to filter out toxins. The consequences are even more grave for children, as lead exposure almost certainly leads to stunted growth, incomplete brain development, and malnourishment.
With my Legacy Grant, I purchased a lead testing machine that Pop Wuj can use both in Xela and in mobile clinics to test lead levels, document them, and assure that lead stays at a safe level over time—something that has never been done in this community. I worked closely with the clinic's nutrition program coordinator to improve the existing lead awareness program by designing easy-to-understand pamphlets and posters (including useful information about lead: what it is, where it is found, how it endangers adults and children, exposure symptoms, and how to prevent exposure for oneself and one's family). We also worked hard to make the lead education class more interactive, simpler to understand, and memorable.
—Vanessa Konzelmann ’18