Empowering indigenous Maya people

A mother from the indigenous Maya community rests in a health facility after giving birth to her baby. Her gown and bed linen have been especially designed for Maya women and are examples of some of the culturally appropriate practices being introduced.

A mother from the indigenous Maya community rests in a health facility after giving birth to her baby. Her gown and bed linen have been especially designed for Maya women and are examples of some of the culturally appropriate practices being introduced.

In Guatemala, Health Poverty Action is focusing on empowering indigenous Maya people to bring about lasting change to the health of mothers and children within their communities.  

Maternal mortality is three times higher in Guatemala for indigenous women than non-indigenous.

Across the world, indigenous communities collectively experience significantly poorer health compared to the majority of the population. This is because they often face much bigger barriers when trying to access services.

For example, they may live some distance from health care facilities, experience difficulty communicating with health workers because they speak a different language, or face discrimination simply for being indigenous.

To support the Maya in their struggle for health, Health Poverty Action and local partner Asociación Nuevos Horizontes are:

  • Increasing community access to, and ownership of, quality and equitable maternal and neonatal health services.
  • Encouraging the development of culturally appropriate and quality state maternal and neonatal health services, tailored to community demands.
  • Improving the accountability of maternal and neonatal health services and rights access.
  • Using evidence-based advocacy for culturally appropriate interventions to improve the health status of indigenous people.

How does this make a difference?

It is one thing to offer maternal and neonatal health services, but it is quite another to make those services relevant to the indigenous population’s needs so that people want to use those services. Our approach seeks to re-shape services to community needs by breaking down cultural barriers, encouraging healthier behaviour change, and involving communities in the development of policy and practice regarding maternal and neonatal health services. This all comes together to encourage the Maya community to use and participate in the health services available to them.

What does this look like in practice?

In practice it means Health Poverty Action is training health workers at Ministry of Health facilities in vertical birth – the traditional position Maya women prefer to give birth in. We have also developed a translation device so that Spanish-speaking medical staff can communicate advice and information more clearly to mothers from the Maya community, who speak a different language. And we are working closely with Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) – known in Guatemala as Comadronas – to ensure that their key role in the maternal wellbeing of the indigenous population is recognised within Guatemala’s health system.

Read more about our work on the ground in Latin America

This project is funded by the Big Lottery Fund

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