Children in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia suffer from chronic zinc deficiency, says Dr. Fernando Sempértegui, leader of several landmark studies on the effects of zinc deficiency. He tells IPS that the deficiency “is related to chronic infections like pneumonia, the main cause of death among that population group.”
Zinc is essential to childhood development; without it, cartilage growth in bone metabolism is stunted. Dr. Sempértegui’s study demonstrates that a daily 10-mg zinc supplement is associated with a drop in respiratory infections and a strengthening of participating children’s immune systems. “Hidden hunger” is responsible for chronic zinc deficiency in the Andean region and describes diets that do not necessarily lack food, but critical proteins and nutrients. People in the indigenous rural highlands of Ecuador suffer most acutely from this debilitating deficiency; an estimated 45% of children in the area lack sufficient zinc in their diets.
The situation in the impoverished highlands reveals the problems of access that lead to zinc deficiency: the absence of clean water, adequate sanitation, proper hygiene, and nutrient-rich diets. If these are made accessible to all families in the region, it increases the likelihood of children’s proper growth and development.