Insights Magazine, Volume 11

Page 26


Saving Mothers


Physician Assistant alumna Jessica Oliveira is helping to prevent maternal deaths in Guatemala by training indigenous women to serve as birth attendants. In rural Guatemala, pregnant women face staggering challenges. Most have no education or access to medical care. Local clinics, where they do exist, are sometimes shut down by worker strikes. Predictably, Guatemala has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with indigenous women especially vulnerable. Compelled to action, Jessica B. Oliveira MS ’07, PA-C, a graduate of the Master of Science in Physician Assistant program, provides specialized training to women’s attendants in Guatemala through the all-volunteer group Saving Mothers. “The most common causes of the deaths are hemorrhage, preeclampsia and infection, and they’re preventable with basic education,” she says. “About 75 to 95 percent of births in rural areas are attended by Mayan midwives — comadronas — not a doctor. So we focus our educational initiatives on them.” Oliveira, Saving Mothers’ Guatemala Programs Director, has earned the comadronas’ trust. “We would walk the hills of Santiago, 24

seeing pregnant women at home,” she says. “I taught our students how to do a proper prenatal visit, check vitals, check the fetal heart and recognize an emergency and refer properly.” Having built a presence in Santiago Atitlán and San Juan La Laguna, she is now helping to launch School of POWHER (Providing Outreach in Women’s Health and Educational Resources), a 16-week training program for comadronas and other attendants that combines their traditional health practices and Western medicine. “We teach how to prevent lacerations, for example, because these women do not suture and repair,” Oliveira says. Students receive kits for a safe, sanitary home birth, stocked with items like a vinyl shower curtain (to cover the bed, where most home births occur), scissors, cord clamps, soap, hand-sanitizer, gauze and a towel. Data shows that the training has boosted the attendants’ knowledge of prenatal, birth and emergency care. Meanwhile, Oliveira says, “It’s really opened up a sisterhood of maternal healthcare providers.” —Kimberly Olson


• of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.1 • I ndigenous women in Guatemala have an average of children — the country has the fifth highest fertility rate in the world.2



• A Guatemalan woman is times more likely to die from childbirth than her American counterpart.3 S OU RC E S : 1

World Health Organization

2 3

Saving Mothers The World Bank

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