Hello from Guatemala!

Hello from Guatemala! What an exciting two months it has been for me as Saving Mothers' Research Fellow. Since the very beginning of medical school at Weill Cornell Medical College, I knew I would dedicate a year to expand my knowledge of global health and decided that a year of on the ground experience over an MPH was the right choice for me. And boy am I glad I made that decision!

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In the last two months I have come to truly understand the depth of Saving Mothers' involvement in Guatemala. I have experience first hand how in a healthcare structure that is so fragmented and excludes its poorest residents, the School of POWHER supports and tries to re-integrate the comadronas (indigenous birth attendants) and their patients into the system in a very unique way. I have become part of the school both in teaching classes and precepting home visits. I am developing deep relationships with each of the 13 students in the current class, which has helped me understand the complexity of the different Mayan communities and how different cultural beliefs truly do affect healthcare.

Last week I went on home visits in a remote village with Dona Raymunda and I was a bit frustrated when during one of our prenatal visits a pregnant mom refused prenatal vitamins because she believed they would cause her baby to be too large and cause her to have a difficult home delivery. It was eye-opening for me to understand this coming from a place where prenatal care is a given. Dona Raymunda counseled her extensively in Ma'm, their native tongue, and the mother compromised and said she would rethink her position. Although these moments can be a bit defeating at first, it was a great teaching point that speaks about the beliefs of many indigenous communities and how they need to be acknowledged in order to provide adequate healthcare. Just one layer of the complexities here in Guatemala.

The last two months have also helped me understand how practicing medicine in a resource poor setting truly works, a skill that I would have not developed as quickly by sitting in a classroom. As a U.S .trained medical student I am always thinking about the gold standard of care, but have been challenged into thinking through clinical decisions when the gold standard isn't an option.

With the graduation of the third class of the School of POWHER on November 3rd, I am excited for what lies ahead! I will be helping with the opening of a casa materna (birthing house), and developing two research projects to be implemented in the Spring. One project will help assess the clinical skills acquired by our School of POWHER students through a standardized checklist. The second project, funded by a small grant from the New York County Psychiatry Society, will survey attitudes and beliefs regarding maternal pre and post partum depression within Mayan women as few studies on this topic have focused on indigenous women. I am most excited to help oversee the 4th School of POWHER in the Spring of 2017 where past comadronas will be the main educators.

Every day I am inspired by our work here. Saving Mothers is providing a wonderful service to the women of this region and I am honored to be a part of it all!

Sincerely, Sasha Hernandez

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Kenya Update

More than 30 hours have passed between leaving the skyscrapers of New York City and arriving in the rains of Kitale in western Kenya. Yet we still have a one hour drive on a dirt road riddled with potholes and farm animals before we reach our ultimate destination of Kapenguria Hospital. The hospital is not an enclosed space, so chickens and cows are seen to wander freely across

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the grassy hospital grounds. Insects often swarm around patients and rainwater moistens their beds which begin to grow mold. While Kapenguria is the main referral hospital for the impoverished rural county of West Pokot serving a population of 500,000, it lacks even the most basic resources expected of a tertiary care center. Despite facilitating some 500 deliveries every month, the maternity ward has less than 50 beds. As a result many of the women share beds; a potentially hazardous practice, yet one which seems to comfort them. During morning rounds, patients are frequently seen to be sharing tea and conversation with bunk mates and family.

On this trip, the Saving Mothers team included our distinguished medical board member Dr. Nerys Benfield, medical fellow Dr. Molly Findley, and research fellow Sobaata Chaudhry. Drs. Benfield and Findley are both family planning specialists, so their principal focus was to prepare local providers for our upcoming family planning initiative. In addition the team evaluated the progress of our Preterm Birth Indicator pilot, which is being administered by local Saving Mothers' team members Dr. Dan Munyuny (our OB/Gyn fellow) and Augustine Kakuko (our community outreach specialist). They also met with local government officials including the Director of Finance and Economic Planning, and the Director of Health and Sanitation, both of whom have been very influential in moving our program forward.

 

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Guatemala Update: Interview with Saving Mothers' Guatemala Program Director Jessica Oliveira

As we approach the 5 year anniversary of our presence in Guatemala, we took the opportunity to sit down and chat with our Guatemala Program Director Jessica Oliveira. Jessica lives full time in Guatemala, so we were excited to catch her on a recent brief visit to NYC to hear about the work that she has been doing and her unique experiences living amongst the indigenous Mayans in the rural Lago Atitlan region.

 

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Saving Mothers on the Sandi Klein Show!

Guatemala Program Director Jessica Oliveira stopped by Sandi Klein's Conversations with Creative Women to discuss Saving Mothers and maternal health. The show airs on public radio this Sunday, but listen to the full interview here first! We're proud to have such outstanding women on our Saving Mothers team. 

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Students for Saving Mothers

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My name is Jessica and I am a Student Ambassador for Saving Mothers. I first came in contact with the organization this past fall and was looking for a way to help their incredible efforts. I recently held a fundraiser at my high school selling Mother's Day cards in support of Saving Mothers, and am excited to share that we raised $821 which will benefit the safety of mothers all over the world. I think the event was so successful because students were able to make the connection between honoring their own mothers on Mother's Day and supporting this wonderful organization. I am so glad I was able to facilitate this connection, and I am looking forward to working more with Saving Mothers in the future.

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Saving Mothers to Partner with HealthRight International in Kenya

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Saving Mothers has recently begun a partnership with HealthRight International in Kenya, working to improve maternal and child health in West Pokot, an extremely underserved county on the Western edge of the country. Since the new constitution was ratified in 2009, the Kenyan government has renewed it's focus on improving health outcomes around the country, with special emphasis on maternal and child health. This effort has included providing free antenatal and maternity care at public hospitals. Unfortunately these changes are rolling out very slowly, and maternal and child mortality rates remain appallingly high in West Pokot. Lack of resources is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to poor health among pregnant women and newborns; access to care is still the primary reason health outcomes in the West Pokot population remain inadequate.

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Saving Mothers announces NGO partnership with Babies4Babies

We are pleased to announce our partnership with Babies4Babies.  The Chicago based luxury baby brand was founded in January 2013 by philanthropist, mommy and entrepreneur Kate Marie Sigfusson. 

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Pictured from left to right: Dr. Taraneh Shirazian (President, Saving Mothers) and Kate Marie Sigfusson (Founder and CEO Babies4Babies)

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A Great Addition to Our Guatemala Team

These photos are of Lesbia Cholotio, Saving Mothers new San Juan Project Coordinator and prenatal care specialist at a local clinic in San Juan. Lesbia has been working with Saving Mothers for the past 4 years, always participating in all our training programs and educational initiatives.  We introduced Lesbia in 2012 to a local clinic (run by another US nonprofit org) and shortly thereafter she was hired and trained to be a diabetes educator. Last year in March, we assisted Lesbia and the clinic in opening their first prenatal program. One year later, Lesbia is now seeing patients in 2 different clinics and has a busy private practice as a local comadrona. She wears her FIGS scrubs proudly and believes they make her look more professional and has brought her much respect from the community.

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Updates from the Guatemala School of POWHER

Of the 23 graduates, 15 still continue their training and education with the School of POWHER. Concepcion, Guatemala Project Coordinator, set up a surprise meeting with comadronas for me.  Since graduation, they have been having monthly meetings with Concepcion.  During these meetings they schedule the month’s activities—including prenatal visits with Concepcion (preceptor), monthly lectures held by the MOH exclusively for Saving Mothers comadrona students—and discuss any concerns regarding their experiences.

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Saving Mothers & Kangaroo Mother Care

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Saving Mothers’ is in Newsweek for it’s collaborative project, the Kangaroo Mother Care sling. Click here to read the article.

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