The Reality of Covid-19 in Rural Mexico
At times, it seems to me that what we are telling people about Covid-19 is aimed first and foremost at the middle class living in urban settings, forgetting that the world is so much larger than that. For that reason, I would like to share a short text about what we experienced over the past two weeks, as we visited various indigenous municipalities of Chiapas (Mexico), to talk directly with traditional midwives and provide them with midwife kits, which included basic protective material, and information on the virus.
In Mexico, there is a difference in the way this epidemic is unfolding in the urban areas as compared to the rural ones, at least in the rural areas of Chiapas, where the historical inequality experienced here is again being reflected. There is hardly any information on the virus, and the little that does exist, fails to take into account the cultural characteristics of the population, in areas where there are hardly any health institutions.
On the visits we made to a number of indigenous municipalities over these past two weeks, we were hard pressed to find even one small sheet of paper displayed in health clinics with information for the public. We passed by health centers that were closed or which for months have lacked any health staff. We have heard of some hospitals refusing to provide services to pregnant women who arrive to deliver their babies, presumably so that the health staff does not become infected with Covid-19, but leaving the women to their fate.
There is also the perception, among many of the people living in these rural and indigenous locations, that this epidemic is not real, or that it won’t actually reach their communities. Many people who had migrated for economic reasons are returning home without any protective measures or care being provided for them or their families.
As has happened so many times before, the onslaught of the disaster will come in waves and when these waves hit, they will likely be devastating.
Water is scarce, food is scarce, and that which exists is getting more expensive. The conditions of the homes are generally poor and it is not realistic to tell families to designate their only bedroom for a person who has the virus. They hear “stay at home,” and they ask, “who is going to tend to the cornfield; who is going to bring the firewood and who is going to carry the water?” Some people take refuge in their religious beliefs, saying that if God loves them, nothing bad will happen, or what must happen, will.
In this context, traditional midwives, for the care they continue to provide to women and their families, represent a pillar in society. But many of these midwives are also at risk. Some live in even more precarious conditions. Many are older, and suffer a range of health issues.
Now, perhaps more than ever, it is essential for traditional midwives to be recognized and protected, and that their knowledge and practices, as well as their understanding of women and their communities, be recognized as an intangible cultural heritage to humanity.