Health characteristics of the Wayuu indigenous people

Robert P. Lennon, Kristian Camilo Ordunã Lopez, Javier Andres Moreno Socha, Fabián Eduardo Garciá Montealegre, Jerry W. Chandler, Nicholas N. Sweet, Lesley A. Hawley, Dustin K. Smith, Kristian E. Sanchack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Introduction: The identified number of isolated populations with unique medical characteristics is growing. These populations are difficult to study. Civil-military humanitarian operations are part of our medical force readiness training, and are also a venue through which unique populations can be simultaneously served and evaluated. Continuing Promise 2017 was a collaborative effort between the US Navy, non-governmental organizations, and the Colombian Ministry of Health, Navy and Army to provide primary medical care to the Wayuu indigenous people in the La Guajira Department of Colombia. Materials and Methods: In the course of providing primary care services, demographic and health data of the Wayuu people were collected. Descriptive statistics were used to generate averages, and t-tests were used to compare Wayuu means with age and gender matched US means for weight and age in children and blood pressure in adults. Observational data on skin afflictions and arthritis were also collected. This project was approved by Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Institutional Review Board. Results: Although the Wayuu live in an arid desert with chronic sun exposure, they have no apparent affliction from squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma. They live almost exclusively through manual labor, yet rarely develop osteoarthritic joint disease. Their incidence of hypertension is 35% lower than their US age and gender matched cohort. Although their region is known for extreme poverty and malnutrition, their weight-for-age curve from 2 months through 17 years is similar to their US cohort. Conclusions: This study is the first to document the general health characteristics of the Wayuu people. It demonstrates that in addition to providing important readiness training to our own personnel, humanitarian missions can provide medical care and explore unique, isolated populations. Although retrospective and limited in size, it can be used to shape future medical missions to their region, and will hopefully stimulate formal research into their remarkable characteristics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberusz021
Pages (from-to)E230-E235
JournalMilitary medicine
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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