In these past few months working with Manos Abiertas, I’ve happened upon some very interesting conferences. From one conference to another, I’ve encountered some common themes: the frigid environs of the Westin Camino Real in Guatemala City (perhaps the fanciest and gaudiest hotel I’ve ever seen) as well as the lack of communication between midwives and the Guatemalan national health system.
The first conference, put on by UNFPA (UN Population Fund), was called “Conversation: Midwives as an essential part of maternal health and development.” Held in honor of the International day of the Midwife, the conference mirrored one of UNFPA’s missions in Guatemala–to empower indigenous women by strengthening maternal health systems via an intercultural approach. Following this mission, the conference served as a merger of representatives from Guatemalan government, doctors, and traditional midwives.
As Guatemala has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region, this merger of health professionals and government is something that everyone agreed needs to happen to reduce maternal mortality. What complicates matters is that although traditional midwives, or comadronas, attend to greater than a third of prenatal care, they are largely unrecognized by the Guatemalan government and doctors. It’s also important to mention that it is by and large traditional midwives–not government officials or doctors–who are working in the rural areas that are the hardest to reach and have the worst health indicators. In reality, midwives, not government health programs, are the health care providers for many rural populations. Unfortunately, the conclusion of this conference left me with the feeling of “Yeah, we (traditional midwives, governments, and doctors) should work together,” but so far there’s not even talk of creating a network to unite these vastly different worlds.
Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.