Midwifery training saves lives in remote communities

Visitación Perea has been a midwife her working life. "A midwife is a mother and a friend to all." Photo: OCHA

Colombia | 2023 | CERF

Colombia, Chocó region. Visitación Perea has been a midwife for nearly fifty years. As a young girl, she joined her grandmother – also a midwife – on her daily visits. In those days, sometimes births took place by candlelight.

Midwives are a fundamental part of this and other rural communities – providing advice and support to pregnant women and new mothers and serving as de-facto community leaders. “If the midwife is from the area, knows the community, and has been trained, she is seen as a mother, as a friend, as an aunt, as a mom to all,” says Visitación.

To be a “partera” is to engage in a centuries-old tradition, accompanying women not just during birth but before and after, teaching them how to care for themselves, their babies, and encouraging them to visit the clinic when it’s needed.

Remembering those early visits with her grandmother, she says, “I realized that this was my vocation, and since it is now my vocation, I love it! I’m blessed every day of my life… for me, it means life, tradition, culture.”

In this remote community, most people have to travel long distances to access health care. Roads are poorly maintained, and crime and violence remain a threat. Armed groups sometimes issue temporary curfews, meaning people aren’t allowed to move freely at night. Help from the local midwife can really be a matter of life or death.

A PAHO/WHO project, supported by CERF, worked with midwives like Visitación, who support conflict-affected rural communities, including in the indigenous, black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquera communities.

Midwives are on the frontlines of saving lives. The project aims to reduce avoidable illness and death for people affected by the conflict in this region. It brings the midwives together to share knowledge, learn new skills, and use new equipment (like scales to weigh newborns) at the Tutunendo health centre. A nursing assistant was also available for 24-hour consultations.

Visitación is a lifelong learner. Building on her deep experience, the training from PAHO taught her and her fellow parteras new warning signs and risk factors to look out for in her patients, for conditions like pre-eclampsia or placenta previa.

“We want to thank the United Nations for believing in us midwives. Thank you for believing in our region, and for sharing all that knowledge with us,” she says. “We’ll put this new information into practice in areas where access to care is not easily available.”

For more information on the CERF allocation in Colombia. OCHA POOLED FUNDS Data Hub (unocha.org).