Guatemala’s Indigenous Midwives Screen for Cervical Cancer

Lead midwife Imelda and Valeria, MD, prepare to perform cryotherapy (Photo by Mallory Betz)

Since 2016, Every Mother Counts has supported the Association of Midwives of the Mam Speaking Area (ACAM) — a group of 40 Maya midwives who together run a birth center, mobile clinic, and education and training opportunities for the 50,000 people who make up the communities in and around Concepción Chiquirichapa, Guatemala, where ACAM is based. These communities are 80% Indigenous, many of them speak Mam almost exclusively. The people in these communities often struggle with poor health and nutrition, low levels of education, and poverty. Maternal and infant mortality rates in the area are still among the highest in the Western Hemisphere, and there are significant problems with mistreatment of indigenous people in the health system, especially women.

There is an epidemic of cervical cancer in Central America among women, due largely to a lack of diagnoses and treatment. This is also true in Guatemala. Women in ACAM’s communities have previously rejected cervical cancer screening since it was generally offered by male providers or nurses who do not speak Mam. The only advanced cancer treatment available in Guatemala is through a single program in Guatemala City, which is five hours away and thus out of reach for women in Xela, where ACAM is based.

In October 2017, seven midwives from ACAM participated in a training on cervical cancer screening specifically designed to be used in low-resource settings. Last week, they held their first cervical cancer screening jornada (Open House) and screened 43 women. Four of those women tested positive for early lesions and were treated with cryotherapy by Imelda, the first midwife in Guatemala certified to provide this treatment. Journalists from a national newspaper heard about the jornada and came to do an article on this successful wellness event.

ACAM midwife Nancy (left) with her two sisters, who were screened for cervical cancer (Photo by Mallory Betz)

The midwives are now looking into a partnership with a local clinic in Xela and a U.S. university to be trained on cryotherapy, and purchase cryotherapy equipment to treat women at their birth center.

Learn more about our work in Guatemela and around the world at everymothercounts.org

Topics: Maternal Health