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Partnering to promote reproductive health for Latin America’s indigenous women

2011 June 30
by Martha Murdock

Martha Murdock is FCI’s vice president for regional programs.

I have just arrived in Lima, Peru, where — together with Alexia Escobar and Maritza Segura, FCI’s national coordinators in Bolivia and Ecuador — I will be attendingthe High Level Meeting on Reproductive Health and Intercultural Care in Latin America.

This meeting, hosted by the Peruvian Ministry of Health and the Organismo Andino de Salud as part of  a regional framework sponsored by the Spanish Agency for International Development (AECID) and the UN Population Fund—UNFPA, will bring together high-level health officials from the health ministries of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, and Venezuela. FCI, a partner in this regional program, is one of the few NGOs invited to the meeting.

In Latin American and the Caribbean, maternal mortality was reduced by 41% between 1990 and 2008. Looking at overall regional and national data, the many countries in the region seem to be on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal(MDG) 5 target of reducing maternal mortality by ¾ over 20 years. However, when the data is disaggregated by ethnicity,there remain substantial gaps in access to reproductive health services, information, and commodities among indigenous women. Surveys in countries like Guatemala have shown that maternal mortality is up to 3 times higher among indigenous women (211 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) than among non-indigenous women (70 per 100,000).

In seeking to address these gaps and achieve MDG 5 among all population groups, governments in the region recognize the need to adopt an intercultural approach to maternal and reproductive health services. Since 2009, FCI has been working to strengthen the advocacy capacity of indigenous women’s organizations to demand culturally-appropriate health care, and to promote their direct participation in the design and monitoring of maternal health care services that are sensitive to their cultural traditions. We also work with ministries of health across the region to advance maternal health policies and programs that better respond to indigenous women’s cultural expectations and needs.

This week’s meeting will review the progress that has been made so far, share lessons learned, and set a path to define and agree upon a basic set of indicators of culturally-friendly maternal health services. One expected, and important, outcome of the meeting will be the adoption by all of the Ministers of Health of a joint statement that commits to strengthening and further intensifying measures to make maternal health services more culturally acceptable to indigenous women, in order to improve their health status. Follow The FCI Blog to read their final statement, and to stay up to date as FCI closely monitors its implementation.

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