Annette Borkent, an obstetrical nurse at Shuswap Lake General Hospital, Cenaida Juarez, Guatemalan project co-ordinator, and Salmon Arm native Dr. Ruth Brighouse, who has been a part of the Thompson Region Family Obstetrics Group team of doctors since 2008, embark on the 17th annual Safe Motherhood training program on Feb. 1.

Salmon Arm pair head out on another maternity project in Guatemala

Women in rural Central American country taught methods to improve birthing outcomes

Women in rural Guatemala will have safer birthing experiences, thanks to a Salmon Arm medical team.

Dr. Ruth Brighouse and registered nurse Annette Borkent are making their 17th annual Safe Motherhood visit to the Central American country.

From Feb. 1 to 17, the women will train traditional birth attendants, or “Comadronas,” as they are called in Mayan culture.

The course teaches the much-needed skills of risk assessment of pregnant women, safe birthing, emergency skills should the need arise and neonatal care in a very “hands-on” format.

“Our students have always given very positive feedback as they find that with this method they are able to understand the concepts and practise them until they feel comfortable,” says Borkent. “The majority of our students are illiterate and speak of the joy of being able to improve their skills to help the women in their care.”

Brighouse and Borkent will join their Guatemalan collaborators, Cenaida Juarez, Gloria Cutuj and Gaby Castellanos, who continue to be instrumental in logistical support and ensuring good translation between Mayan dialects and Spanish.

Related: Medical team helps Guatemalan mothers, babies

As well, the Guatemalan women have helped the Canadians train more than 1,100 people in the past 16 years.

“We include volunteer paramedics in our courses, teaching them the assessment and birthing skills they need when called on to transport a woman in a birthing crisis,” says Borkent. “The comadronas and paramedics learn to work together as a team and understand what their differing roles should be.”

They also include some nurses from the Public Health Units in the program, as many of them have never had hands-on practice in their training.

“Book knowledge is not as complete without a hands-on portion,” Borkent adds.

She says the team’s hope is that as well as gaining hands-on experience, the nurses will support the comadronas in their area. The comadronas are taught to take pregnant women they are concerned about to the health units for additional assessment.

“The relationship between the health units and comadronas really improves after our courses,” says Borkent.

This year the Canadian team will be training two groups in San Jose Ojetenám.

The visit to the rural area located in the highlands of Guatemala is at the request of the local public health unit. It is a small city at 10,000 feet elevation with many surrounding villages. The nearest hospital is at least one hour away when road and weather conditions are good.

Related: Hands-on help to protect mothers and babies

Unfortunately, high mountain travel, especially in this poverty-stricken country, carries many risks and it often takes at least two hours to travel this distance, Borkent says.

“Cenaida, as our paid Guatemalan co-ordinator, continues to be very instrumental in encouraging the growth of the project with local community and health-care leaders,” she says. “We envision further expansion over the next few years, using our teaching model to reach many more communities, working with these local leaders.”

In order to reach their goal, the team is looking for help in raising the $20,000 needed to implement the program. Funds raised will go towards acquiring the necessary materials, including new and realistic birthing models, medicines, instructional booklets and more throughout the year. The money will also cover Cenaida’s wages as well as travel expenses for the team within Guatemala.

Borkent and Brighouse pay their own expenses.

Safe Motherhood is a member project of Rose Charities Canada, a registered charitable organization that provides tax receipts.

Anyone interested in helping the team is invited to go online to www.rosecharities.ca and follow the prompts. If sending a cheque, make it out to Rose Charities, indicate on the memo line that it is to support the ‘Safe Motherhood Project,’ add your email address for tax receipt purposes and send to: Rose Charities Canada, 1870 Ogden Ave., Vancouver, B.C. V6J 1A1.


@SalmonArm
barb.brouwer@saobserver.net

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