Midwives step into roles of traditional doctors in rural Guatemala
Pressed into service, midwives find themselves addressing other health issues in their communities
Midwives, the term used to describe women helping other women before,
during and after the birth process are rare in developed countries. In
countries with large rural populations, such as Guatemala, midwives have
stepped up to the plate to provide much needed help to their villages.
According to official statistics, nearly half of all births in Guatemala are attended by midwives.
A member of the Cakchiquel indigenous community, Xinico told IPS that the midwives "are treated as part of the family; they give people advice about how to solve their difficulties."
Midwives are also called upon when there is a health problem in their communities.
According to official statistics, nearly half of all births in this Central American nation are attended by midwives. In provinces where the majority of the population is indigenous, the proportion reached almost 80 percent. The survey reported that 43 percent of births took place in public hospitals and clinics, with less than eight percent in private health facilities.
Fifty-four percent of Guatemala's 14 million people live in poverty while 13 percent in extreme poverty.
In spite of the important role they play in providing healthcare, Guatemala's traditional midwives are frequently dismissed. "Because they are indigenous, they are discriminated against and treated with scorn by staff in the public health services" to which they turn when patients with complications must be transferred to the hospital, Xinico said.
"The doctors don't let us go in the hospital, they only let the patient in, which makes us feel bad," one native midwife says. This happens because many of the expectant mothers do not speak Spanish, only their native language.
A midwife for 16 years says her skills are a gift from God. "When I was just a little girl I wanted to know how babies came into the world. My great-grandmothers and my grandparents would get angry when I asked them," she said.
"I wanted to receive the children when they were born," she said. Trained as a midwife, she became an indispensable member of her community.
"When women come with complications, we immediately send them to the hospital. We are also visited by 14- or 15-year-old girls who come in with a stomach ache and we explain that it's menstruation," she said.
Much work remains to be done. "We would like to learn how to detect hemorrhaging when we are in the village and how we can help the women," she said.
A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.
© 2012, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Guatemala, midwives, health, village communities, extreme poverty
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