Oscar Fidel Vasquez, 8 months old, is one of the luckier children to have survived Nicaragua's brutal civil war.
He is suffering from malnutrition, gastrointestinal problems and possibly brain damage because his mother, Vilma Vasquez de Bonilla, lost her job as a maid a month ago and was not able to buy enough milk or other food to care for her small son.
Now that the war is over, however, the child's father has found a job and the baby is resting comfortably in the overcrowded children's ward of the hospital Fernando Velez Paiz here.
Whether Oscar Vasquez will recover completely is not yet clear. Doctors at the hospital say that in Nicaragua, where half of the 2.4 million population is under 15 years old, virtually a whole generation of children may have been permanently scared by the war. The problem is only now beginning to be understood.
Whether Oscar Vasquez will recover completely is not yet clear. Doctors at the hospital say that Nicargua, where half of the 2.4 million population is under 15 years old, may have lost a whole generation of children. The problem is only now beginning to be understood.
Lea Guido de Lopez, the new minister of social welfare, said in an interview today that at least 250,000 children in this war-shattered country either suffer from serious malnutrition or are dependent on international relief efforts for their daily food.
So far, she said, only Oxfam, the British international famine assistance agency, and the Organization of American States, which today approved a $500,000 emergency grant for Nicaragua, have focused on the problem of feeding and caring for children whose lives have been radically altered by fighting here over the past year.
The minister said Nicaragua desperately needs milk for the children because two of its biggest dairies were destroyed during the war by National Guard planes. She said there is also a shortage of children's clothing.
Guido said that the aid Nicaragua has received consists mostly of food and clothes for adults. But she said even this assistance has not been enough to feed and clothe the million Nicaraguans who have no jobs or money and must rely on assistance from aboard for their sustenance.
"So far, there hasn't been sufficient international aid and much of the aid promised hasn't come," she said. "We are sending telegrams today to all of the embassies to tell them of our situation."
Guido said Nicaragua needs 300 tons of food a day to feed the civilian population.At the height of assistance efforts last week, she said, the International Red Cross and the new government were receiving only 100 tons a day. That figure has since decreased.
"This situation may be overcome next week,," she said, "if the aid promised begin to come. But in the meantime, people have to eat mow."
She said that the ministry of social welfare is giving priority to the needs of children under four years of age. It has asked the International Red Cross to do likewise, Guido said, but the lack of milk has been especially acute and will has been remedied until more nations and international relief agencies like Oxfam and the OAS, are aware of the problem.
Guido said she had no estimate of the number of war orphans but "there are many."
Even before the fighting, Nicaragua was one of Latin America's most backward countires. In terms of social welfare. Dr. Rafael Cabrera, the new director of the children's hospital, said that Nicaragua traditionally had the second-highest infant mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti, as well as an average life expectancy of 47 years, again the second worst in the hemisphere after Haiti.
Now, he said, the problem of malnutrition, especially among children, has increased enormously during the last eight months because of widespread unemployment, poor sanitary condition, and lack of food deliveries to major cities during the war.
The consequences are especially evident -- and and heart rending -- in the children's ward at the hospital, where 78 children under one year of age, children like Oscar Vasquez, are being fed intravenously or being otherwise cared for by the hospital staff.
Some of the children have names and their mothers are there to watch over them. Others are labeled simply by numbers, such as one small child, with arms on thicker than a grown man's finger, whose only identification is "numero 44."
This baby boy was brought to the hospital shortly after the war ended, Cabrera said, and left with a nurse. He is about 4 months old and has lost virtually all of his mother coordination. His face is scratched or bitten by bugs, his body shriveled. He will be deformed both mentally and physically for the rest of his life, if he survives, the doctor said.
His is not an isolation case. Of the 828 children brought for treatment to the hospital last Monday, Dr. Cabrera said, 393 of them were suffering from serious malnutrition, an indication of the cost -- in human terms -- this country has endured. CAPTION: Picture, Children of Managua, many orphaned by the war, receive care in centers. UPI