In Ecuador, there are more than 2,000 community midwives, who are an axis of support for access to maternal healthcare in rural communities. According to the Interamerican Bank of Development, in Ecuador nearly 40 percent of indigenous women do not have access to basic services, such as prenatal check-ups. The lack of access is related to issues of ethnic discrimination, as well as geographic and linguistic limited access across the region. In addition, the impact of oil extraction and mining in these indigenous territories has resulted in high rates of breast and uterine cancer and abortions.
While indigenous midwives are highly respected as counselors, spiritual guides, guardians of reproduction, and experts of the natural world and medicinal plants, they’re perceived negatively by mainstream healthcare providers. Thus, their traditional knowledge and holistic cosmovision of health paired with the cultural values of the people they serve have been widely ignored—a grave disservice to maternal healthcare in Ecuador as a whole.
In this story I worked with AMUPAKIN, an organization of Amazonian Kichwa midwives working to protect the maternal health of indigenous women in Napo, Ecuador. They run a midwifery school and the first indigenous midwifery hospital in the Amazon of Ecuador. They have created a woman-centered community that cares for each other during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. Despite having extensive training rooted in their medicinal knowledge, many of their practices face limitations because of the distance and geographical complications of access to the communities. These 8 Kichwa women, between 60 and 80 years old, take care of a medicinal garden, hospital and make great efforts to visit nearby communities to provides their free services . Their goal is the transmission of their knowledge to younger generations. The health and well-being of future generations is crucial to ensure the survival of the Amazon, the populations that inhabit it and all of humanity.