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MNCH: A Year On - Transforming Indigenous Lives

Raul Scorza blog

Raúl Scorza
Community Outreach and Communications Coordinator

Patricia María Oxlaj is a young, Indigenous Maya K’iche’ woman living in Totonicapán, Guatemala. 

Lives like those of Patricia Maria Oxlaj and her son are being transformed

Left to Right: Silvia, PIES Health Educator; Patricia Oxlaj and son; Horizons ED Patricia Rebolledo

Winding dirt paths weave between the small houses that dot her village’s landscape, with imposing mountains towering over ravines that are near impossible to navigate with a vehicle. At the age of 24, Patricia became pregnant with her first son. She resides in one of the departments with the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the country, where Indigenous women are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as non-Indigenous women. As her pregnancy continued, Patricia noticed that breathing became increasingly difficult for her. 

In the fall of 2016, a Health Educator under Horizons and the Association for Health Promotion, Research and Education’s (PIES) Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH)project conducted a household visit with Patricia after walking numerous hours on the dirt paths leading up to her home. 

The nearest health posts and clinics are usually a 2-3 hour trek away

The village of Xesaná

Household visits by PIES Health Educators include warning signs of high-risk pregnancies as a focus

Telma Cuc, PIES Health Educator, providing counselling to Roxana Castro

The Health Educator helped Patricia recognize her shortness of breath as a warning sign of a high risk-pregnancy. Patricia was promptly referred to the department hospital - a journey taking approximately 3 hours given the village's terrain and its remoteness. At the hospital, doctors let Patricia know that had she not sought out medical attention, her own life and the life of her baby would have been in grave danger. 

Patricia’s son, who was due in January 2017, was born in November 2016 – three months premature – but both mother and child are alive and healthy.

Thousands of lives, like those of Patricia and her son, are being transformed thanks to the MNCH project, which counts on your support and the support in part of Global Affairs Canada. Having recently concluded the first official year of the project (with year two already underway), we would like to share some key highlights that have directly benefited more than 40,000 Indigenous Maya K’iche’ women, children and families in the first year of this four-year initiative.

• Health educators, fluent in the Maya K’iche’ language, have conducted more than 6,000 household visits and facilitated more than 90 women’s discussion groups, promoting MNCH best practices among 16,000 women and helping prevent maternal and child deaths.

40 traditional Indigenous midwives, all Maya K’iche’ women, have completed a year-long training on culturally-pertinent MNCH best practices, including a focus on gender equality. Each of these midwives will now share their updated knowledge by replicating their training with 25 other midwives, enhancing practices for a total 1,040 midwives - essentially all midwives in Totonicapán. 

Training is conducted by our local partner, PIES

Midwives trained in Year 1 were recruited from 6 out of the 8 municipalities of Totonicapán

 Equipment to assist the trained traditional Indigenous midwives in safe, clean deliveries has been procured.
300 medical and nursing students started training on the foundations of health and illness in the Maya worldview, sensitizing future health workers caring for a virtually all-Maya K’iche population.
• First major purchase of medications, medical equipment and culturally-accepted nutritional supplements (Incaparina).

Chronic malnutrition levels in children under five in Guatemala are among the highest in the world

Incaparina is a culturally-accepted supplement due to its resemblance to "atol", a traditional drink

 Agreements reached with Totonicapán health authorities to formalize controls for distributing medicine and supplies.
Mass media campaign rolled out, with radio and TV spots promoting MNCH best practices (exclusive breastfeeding, immunization , warning signs of high-risk pregnancies and more) in Maya K’iche’ and Spanish among tens of thousands of people.
Knowledge-exchanges from Canada to Guatemala and from Guatemala to Canada held, with the involvement of one Canadian family doctor, 3 Canadian nurses and 6 Canadian midwives, and 3 traditional Indigenous midwives and 2 physicians from Guatemala, respectively.
• A series of public engagement activities, including outreach during the exchange to Canada, carried out to raise awareness among more than 1,300 Canadians and over 230 Canadian health practitioners – including a partnership with an elementary teacher’s local that has helped educate more than 250 youth on MNCH challenges.

The team shared knowledge and experiences with their Guatemalan counterparts

10 Canadian health practitioners visited health posts and clinics, as well as shadowed traditional midwives in home visits

The above is only an overview of the tremendous efforts that Horizons, PIES, Totonicapán’s health authorities and all other collaborating organizations have pooled together to transform Indigenous lives.

These efforts would not have been possible without your support and solidarity, and we invite you to continue to be part of this transformation. You can keep attending our engaging events, like a free public presentation we will hold on Tuesday June 27 at 7:00pm in the Cobourg Public Library, or reach out to Raúl Scorza at rscorza@horizons.ca to talk about all of the ways in which you can contribute to this important initiative.