That women, in particular poor, marginalized women, are denied access or mistreated during maternity care is not news. I would even be willing to bet that this is a pretty common event, happening hundreds, if not thousands, times a day, around the world but rarely are such events attract much attention.

Which is what makes the case of Irma Lopez, a poor Mazatec woman from northern Oaxaca state in Mexico so interesting. After traveling a long distance from her home to the local maternity clinic to deliver her baby, Mrs. Lopez was “kicked out of the clinic” by a nurse who claimed she was not yet ready to deliver.

But of course Mrs. Lopez was, and just moments later, Mrs. Lopez delivered her baby, on her own, on the lawn of the clinic. A passerby, perhaps with a camera phone snapped a photo of Mrs. Lopez with her baby still attached – a much more graphic version of what is above (that you can Google) – which subsequently went viral on the Internet and was on the cover of newspapers in Mexico. With the click of a camera, Irma Lopez went from forgotten to frontpage, and so did the topic of equity in maternal health services in Mexico.

Fortunately, this is also a story with a happy ending. After delivering, Mrs. Lopez was admitted to the same clinic and was discharged later that same day. Newspaper reporter Adriana Gomez Licon caught up with her and family later that week and everyone, including her new baby boy “Salvador” are doing fine.

The Director of the Center where Mrs. Lopez delivered has subsequently been suspended and investigations are underway to understand how such an event could occur. Many believe that discrimination was a big factor, which is supported by a growing body of literature that many women are treated disrespect and mistreatment is common at health facilities. This inequity might also represent a major barrier to facility-based deliveries.

But for me, the most interesting part of this study is how improved information was able to generate attention to this issue and led to action by local officials to do something about this situation and made me think of the potential of new technologies, such as the camera phone that took this photo, might have in addressing some of the problems in broken health systems.

I am off to Uganda tomorrow to help set up a new project with UNICEF-Uganda to crowdsource data on health care experiences with the image of Mrs. Lopez and her minutes old baby will remain etched on my brain for years to come.

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3 Responses to “The face of inequitable maternity care in Mexico”

  1. Sofie-Alice says:

    What an interesting article! I always find it such a shame to ascertain that not all women receive good maternity care. You have to be heartless to kick out a young woman who’s on the verge to give birth. It’s also interested to see that new technologies have led to action. Hopefully it will someday lead to better maternity care in every country in the world.

  2. Taja Green says:

    This is a very disturbing article. It is very sad that a woman would be denied healthcare, but I’m not surprised by this. Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries. The number one priority needs to be improving the quality of maternal healthcare no matter what culture, and improving the availability of information about maternal mortality. Hopefully with these interventions this can be accomplished.

  3. Ati Persad says:

    Poor maternal and prenatal care is an important global health issue. This incident in Mexico with Mrs. Lopez being kicked out of her local maternity clinic illustrates the extent to which mothers are mistreated and maternal care is undervalued around the world. I find it shocking that the nurse had the heart to kick Mrs. Lopez out of the clinic. Giving birth shortly after on the lawn of the clinic leads me to believe that Mrs. Lopez’s cervix must have been noticeably dilated at the time. I wonder if the nurse even assessed Mrs. Lopez’s condition before kicking her out. Another important global health factor to consider here is Mrs. Lopez’s long journey to get to the maternity clinic. Poor access to health care facilities contributes to this widespread issue and it a key factor to improving conditions surrounding this matter.

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