Midwives Take a Stand During Covid-19
More than 500 traditional midwives representing 30 municipalities make up the Nich Ixim Midwife Movement of Chiapas, which was formed in 2016 as a collective effort to counteract the increasing barriers they faced. The movement advocates for recognition of their work, and for the health needs of the women and children they care for. Collectively, they have delivered approximately 7,000 babies over the past two years. For many centuries, traditional midwives have been the sole providers of care to women and their families in these communities.
With the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak, these midwives will play an even more essential role as potentially the only frontline health workers for their communities. However, many of the remote areas where they live lack any information on the virus. Many areas don’t have local health clinics, and rely largely on health caravans that at times have taken half a year between visits. Villagers who had migrated to the US or the tourist areas, such as Cancun, are returning home without any measures being taken for the prevention of the virus. Some indigenous women are facing discrimination and being refused service at local hospitals.
If and when the pandemic hits these areas, it could have devastating effects. Many of the midwives have not received any personal protective equipment. And yet, women will continue to have babies, and they will continue to experience obstetric emergencies. Many traditional midwives will continue to provide care, and yet, many of these midwives are also in the age group at risk, and others suffer underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension.
Given this setting, the Nich Ixim Midwife Movement issued a statement on April 3 highlighting eight demands that the Ministry of Health needs to urgently comply with, including the recognition of the work that the midwives carry out, the non-criminalization of their work, and the need for collaboration and coordination between midwives and health providers at the different levels of care. The midwives are also demanding that they be supplied with personal protective equipment, and that women are guaranteed safe transport for urgent medical care during pregnancy-related emergencies. This week representatives are meeting with local and state health officials, and with the Chiapas Human Rights Commission.
The work of these midwives is essential. Without them, maternal mortality in Chiapas will very likely explode, and the Maya communities they have cared for throughout centuries could likely be torn apart.