How One Bolivian Hospital Is Battling Maternal Mortality—By Reaching Back Thousands of Years
Indigenous women around the world are torn between embracing modern approaches to childbirth and preserving age-old traditions. This surprisingly simple solution could save millions of moms.
Photos by Javier Sauras
Under the dim hospital light, a midwife, a doctor, a pregnant woman and her mother silently ponder what they should do with a baby that fiercely resists coming out of the womb. The longer the labor, the more dangerous it gets, and it has been almost a full day since the woman arrived here at the hospital. In Bolivia, which has the second-highest maternal mortality rate in South America, such a delay is a mortal threat. But here, in the high Andean plateau, hours from any major hospital, the mother is in very good hands. The pregnant woman never wanted to go to the hospital. The night before, her mother called Doña Leonarda, the midwife, or partera, to attend the delivery according to traditional Aymara customs. Doña Leonarda was working at the hospital today, so the woman reluctantly came here. Lying on her back, eyes wide open, the mother looks terrified. A young nurse turns to the physician, Dr. Henry Flores, and asks whether she should call the ambulance and …