What is a Midwife?
In Guatemala the midwife (or comadrona) is a vital part of the traditional health system. The midwife plays an integral community role as both a leader and healer. A midwife in Guatemala attends to far more than birth and pregnancy. Midwives are also responsible for preventative health care, broken bones, common children's ailments, mental health, sexual and health education for the entire family. A midwife is a bone-setter, a masseuse, an educator, and a spiritual guide who works within the context of the Mayan Cosmo vision to maintain and restore balance in her community.
Benefits of Midwives
The midwife is often the nearest and only affordable health provider in a community and frequently the only provider who speaks the same indigenous language as the patient. While midwives treat many common ailments themselves, they also are trained to recognize and refer patients to doctors for complications and serious concerns ensuring that people seek needed treatment earlier. Most importantly, members of the indigenous communities are more likely to seek the care of a midwife than travel to the city to see a Spanish speaking doctor for the equivalent of a week’s wages not including medicine. Midwives’ knowledge saves lives, and is culturally and geographically appropriate so as to be sustainable and successful long-term in rural communities.
The Need for Traditional Midwifery Training
As rural providers, midwives can fill a large gap in the medical system, but the majority of midwives in the region are over 53 years old and nearing retirement. There is great need for healthcare providers in rural areas. There is a stark difference in access to health care between rural communities and urban centers in Guatemala. Although maternal and infant mortality statistics have improved dramatically in the last decade in large part to government investment in nutrition and maternal health services, maternal health is still a situation of national urgency due to difficulties providing services and care in rural communities.