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My name is Sarah and I’m the Direct Marketing Officer for Health Poverty Action. Usually I am based in our small London office, but recently I was privileged to meet some of the wonderful people working with us in Guatemala, while I was travelling through Central America.


In this newsletter, I want to tell you about an incredible nurse I met there, and the work she’s doing to fight for health justice.


Sarah Smith, Direct Marketing Officer, Health Poverty Action

Christina has been working to improve the health of indigenous communities in Guatemala for 12 years. During that time she has built up an impressive reputation, often going above and beyond for her patients.


Nurses in the UK are so often praised for taking this approach that I didn’t realise how unusual Christina was until I met other hospital staff there. Then I saw for myself the discrimination people from indigenous communities face every time they try to access the healthcare that is their human right.


On a visit to the region’s primary birthing centre, a doctor took us to see an indigenous mother and told us to interview her while she was in the late stages of labour. We declined, but the doctor’s indifference during a potentially dangerous, and deeply private, time in this lady’s life shocked me.


For indigenous mothers and their children, this blatant discrimination combines with extreme poverty and other cultural barriers to make them some of the most disadvantaged in the world.

Indigenous women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than others in the same country.

The lack of well-stocked health clinics and hospitals means women must travel hours for treatment and check-ups during pregnancy – and finding the money for transport is often impossible. When they do make it to hospital, the Spanish-speaking staff there usually cannot speak their indigenous languages, Mam and K’iche.


In addition, the enduring culture of ‘machismo’ means decisions about women’s health are often made by their father or husband. “While men are away working (which happens a lot) they will often forbid their wife to seek treatment if she’s pregnant, or to go to a health centre to give birth, in case she is seen by a male doctor,” Christina tells me.


Seeking healthcare, if it has been forbidden by their husband, can be very dangerous for women in communities with such traditional beliefs. A recent study of eight Mam communities found that 80% of women had been physically or psychologically abused by their partner, and 24% had been raped.


Due to these cultural barriers, as well as the distance between communities, Christina therefore spends a lot of time travelling to communities where women cannot come to her. She is also working to create change on a wider level, by holding training sessions at local health posts, supported by Health Poverty Action. This means that women can access healthcare and education easily, within their own communities.

“We’re training Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), who are trusted women in these communities, working with trainers who speak their language.”

Juanita is one of the 620 TBAs we’ve trained in Guatemala this year

“Now TBAs know how to recognise women with high-risk births and get them to hospital, and what should happen when they get there. And they have the birthing kits to conduct safe deliveries at home where possible.”


Funded by the Big Lottery Fund and European Commission, this project aims to increase the number of mothers accessing antenatal care, currently as low as 5% in some areas, to 66%.


To do this, Christina co-ordinates her records with the TBAs, creating an informative network reaching even the most vulnerable mothers. Christina conducts health visits and TBAs work with each mother to develop emergency birth plans so they know how to get the treatment they need.


And because the barriers to health are not necessarily overcome at the hospital doors, we’re working with hospital staff to ensure that TBAs can accompany mothers, so that they feel safe and their beliefs are respected during more complex deliveries.

The health post Christina works from in the indigenous community San Juan Ostuncalco, supported by Health Poverty Action

During my visit, Christina held a training session with some local TBAs where she handed out some of the safe birthing kits supported by Health Poverty Action. These kits are full of potentially life-saving tools; gauze, sterilizing equipment, even a wind-up torch for conducting night-time deliveries in areas with no electricity.


These kits are such simple solutions to a more complex problem, but Christina told me that even these have been delayed by the Ministry of Health, which tried to prevent these kits being given to the TBAs before the Ministry have ‘inventoried’ them.


I asked why that was a problem. “We knew that would mean extra work for the Ministry staff; if we handed them in, we would simply never see them again.”

A safe birthing kit, with all the essentials for TBAs to deliver babies safely at home where possible.

As I left Christina to complete her training session, I understood just how crucial all of these incredible women are in the fight for health justice.

Indigenous women must battle harder than anyone for their right to healthcare. With the support of amazing nurses like Christina, they are fighting – and they will win.

Thank you for supporting Health Poverty Action and standing in solidarity with those at the sharp end of global injustice.

The Global Movement for Health

Laos: meet Yaomoua

Laos: Meet Yaomoua

Yaomoua is a leading example of the achievements that can be made by working together with communities to improve health.


Born into a Hmong ethnic minority community in Laos, Yaomoua worked in our Attapeu office before moving to Sepone to manage our sustainable livelihoods projects. In doing so, she has defied the social and cultural restrictions on women and ethnic minorities that are prevalent in Laos.


In addition to these cultural challenges, communities here are also regularly affected by flooding and severe weather. This makes it difficult to farm crops sustainably and is one of the reasons many people are pushed into extreme poverty. Health Poverty Action is supporting communities through providing livestock and training to develop sustainable farming and income generation. “It’s important to target the poorest because it provides them with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.”


She also works hard to provide women with a platform to make decisions and develop their knowledge. “Men make a lot of decisions but women do the hard work. Improvements have been made as women have begun to attend more meetings where decisions are made and are more vocal with their opinions.”


Yaomoua was one of several people interviewed by Moira Deutinger, who is blogging about the communities we work with in Laos. Find out more at bit.ly/yaomoua.


Missing Medicines update

In May, governments at the World Health Assembly agreed a resolution which champions a fairer system of research and development (R&D) of medicines based on need, not profit. The World Health Organisation will now establish an expert committee to provide advice on the issue, and help set up a Global Observatory on Health Research and Development to collect data and identify gaps in research.


Whilst this is progress, governments didn’t agree a funding model to finance this work, and one of our key asks for the establishment of a global R&D agreement was not discussed. However there are plans to decide on a sustainable funding model for R&D reform at next year’s World Health Assembly. This gives us time to double our efforts in calling for more radical reform in future. We’re also awaiting a report of the UN’s High Level Panel on Access to Medicines, which we hope will pave the way for change.


Although there is a long way to go, there is certainly some promising language, and things are moving in the right direction. We will keep working towards an R&D model that will mean everyone can access lifesaving medicines when they need them.


Namibia: an unusual combination

Donkeys and mobile phones might not have much in common, but together they are proving to be a life-saving combination for the poorest communities in Namibia.


The indigenous San people have some of the worst health outcomes in the world. This is partly due to the distance they have to travel to health facilities, but also their lack of access to education means health knowledge is limited. Health Poverty Action is working with the San communities, with funding from the Big Lottery Fund, to increase access to healthcare.


In areas with mobile phone coverage, we’re training 45 community health volunteers on how to identify health issues and providing phones so they can request an ambulance in an emergency. In areas without coverage, communities are also working with us to build “donkey ambulance” carts, which can navigate the rough terrain. This will connect 16,600 people in isolated regions to vital health services.


Thank you for supporting Health Poverty Action and the world’s poorest communities in their fight for health. We think you’re ee-awesome!

Namibia Community Health Volunteers


London Marathon

23 April 2017

Sign up to #TeamHPA to be part of the world’s most famous marathon and help improve healthcare worldwide.


All our runners will receive a running vest, a fundraising pack crammed full of ideas, a dedicated team to support you every step of the way, monthly newsletters, optional team fun runs and of course the LOUDEST cheer team on the day to spur you on!


To join our team we require runners to pay £150 (refundable when you hit your fundraising target) and to raise £2,000 in sponsorship.


Marathon Stars

Want to join #TeamHPA, but feel 26.2 miles is too far? We have 5k, 10k and ½ marathons available UK wide too. Email Jessica to find out more at j.scott@healthpovertyaction.org.

Eat Around the World for Health Poverty Action

Impress your friends by creating culinary delicacies from one of the countries we work in!


Simply choose a country and design a delicious menu to celebrate their culture. Your guests can donate whatever the meal cost to Health Poverty Action’s work to improve nutrition in the poorest communities.


You can download a fundraising pack and get cooking inspiration from our tasty sample menus at bit.ly/eataroundtheworld.


Eat Around the World



Justice Jabber

Ever seen an injustice and wanted to shout about it? Then this is for you!


Health Poverty Action campaigns against the causes of social injustice and inequality worldwide. They are not always the most obvious causes; often they are normalised in society and practised daily. The first step in tackling these issues is getting them recognised publicly as problems. That’s why we’re launching the Justice Jabber.


Speaking out about injustice helps to increase understanding of the problem and galvanises support for a solution. Words are powerful, and discussing an issue with friends, family or colleagues can have even greater impact.


The Justice Jabber is a new type of activism. And it’s such a simple event to organise; whether you hold an hour long lunch session at work, an evening gathering at the pub, or a weekend meeting at your local community hall. It’s up to you! Help us bring people together to learn about new issues, and share ideas for shaping a more just world.


Our first topic for the Justice Jabber is the War on Drugs. Health Poverty Action is calling for a re-think of this approach to drug policy. Current methods, intended to control the illicit drugs trade, have damaging impacts on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.


By discussing the consequences of current drug policy, you’ll take a first step towards creating change. Raising awareness of the issue will help us build a body of a support to demand world leaders to reconsider their approach.


With a body of informed supporters behind us, we’ll be hard to ignore. Activities like petitions can be powerful, but to create long-term, sustained change, we first need to bring hidden issues to light and change minds.


Please join us! Sign up to hold a Justice Jabber at bit.ly/HPAJJ. Our resource pack will provide you with everything you need to run a successful event.


Together we can strengthen the movement for health justice.

Justice Jabber logo