"Our future survival is predicated upon our ability to relate within equality." - Audre Lorde, 1980
I am currently in San Salvador, El Salvador for the continuation of a project I didn't realize I had been working on over the course of two years until a few weeks ago. I am here to answer one or two questions; what is life like with a congenital anomaly in a region where there is a higher prevalence of birth defects (especially than that of The United States), but a socioeconomic dynamic that stunts preventative care, treatment, and understanding? My second question asks-- can a corrective surgical procedure (or as many as needed per situation) help to break the cycle of low socioeconomic status for an individual? If untreated, what are the social and economic implications?
This is a bit daunting to piece together...for the sake of clarity, think of poverty as a cycle, as we know it to be. Now the root and cause of poverty run as deep as our human history-- endless factors are in play that keep the poor impoverished. I am seeking to identify how congenital anomalies play a role in this cycle. Many Latin-American children born with, for example, a orofacial defect, such as cleft lip and cleft palate, if they survive infancy, face a lifetime of challenges that often lead to isolation, lack of education, poor nutrition, and a continually low social and economic stance. Many children are hidden away from the world due to shame that is rooted in misunderstanding. Birth defects, like poverty, have many causes that we are just beginning to touch the surface of. I am interested in the very obvious, and possibly preventable anomalies; those anomalies that are conspicuous and may affect a child's quality of life, and those that we can help to prevent with quality pre-natal care and health education. Adverse circumstances now, adverse circumstances later.
I think this an opportune time to shine a light on this issue of our collective future. This very moment, if you google "congenital anomalies in Latin America", you will see pages and pages of information about the Zika virus. I do not wish to take away from the true severity and unknown risk factors of this virus. However, is it not alarming enough that children in Latin America are roughly two times as likely to be born with orofacial clefts as children in the U.S.A.? While the media sensationalizes, I think this is an important time to ask those questions. How can we break the cycle?
Today, there was a mother and daughter that had traveled to San Salvador from rural Guatemala to see a team of specialists. I am struck by that effort and sacrifice. Tomorrow I will speak with them about their journey here and what it means to them to now have access to a corrective surgery. This story is not uncommon, sadly.
Onward to tomorrow when operations begin and lives are forever transformed.