Monday, 31 March 2014

Mexico’s poor and pregnant give birth in the streets

By Sabrina Willard

The international community cried foul this month after women’s rights advocates working in Mexico revealed that many women from the country’s poorest southern villages have been forced to give birth outside – on lawns, in backyards and even in the streets – after being denied proper medical care from rural hospitals. At least 20 recent cases suggest that pregnant women are often already in labor before being turned away by hospital staff. Advocates believe that this pattern of injustice is due to long-standing prejudices against Mexico’s indigenous population, although health officials blame overcrowding and limited resources as causes.

This issue largely rose to social consciousness by way of social media last year when an image surfaced of a woman squatting in pain after giving birth just outside a rural health center in her village. The 29-year-old of Mazatec ethnicity survived, along with her son, but those who came across it saw something they couldn’t un-see. As this image made the rounds on Twitter and Facebook, it sparked disgust and outrage, especially among other Mexicans.  

Two women have since decided to go public with their stories of giving birth outside of the same hospital. An increasing amount of photos and videos have been shared on the internet depicting women in labor, and even in the act of giving birth, within sight of a hospital. Additionally, television broadcasts have started bringing these stories to the forefront of the discussion, suggesting that there is still a desperate need for reform within Mexico’s rural healthcare system.

Regina Tames, Director of the Reproductive Choice Information Group, a non-governmental organization based in Mexico City, stated the following in an interview with Huffington Post: "These are not isolated cases. We have a pattern. We are not talking about one woman. There are many and nothing is being done to solve the problem” (Huffington Post, 3/28/14).

Activists from organizations such as the Reproductive Choice Information Group have reportedly reached out to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protest the conditions these women have had to endure without relief from their government. With the evidence being increasingly difficult to ignore, and added pressure from their constituents, officials have only recently begun to respond.

Earlier this month, the President of Mexico made a statement urging hospitals not to refuse medical care to women in labor. The Governor of Oaxaca, the state with the highest number of reported cases, also announced a $550,000 grant for the development of 50 new delivery rooms in hospitals throughout the state.

While the government drags its feet, delaying the decisive action necessary in order to solve this problem, Tames reminds us that this injustice has probably been going on for longer than we know: “What's new is that people are outraged and want to do something about it.”

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