Reducing Maternal Mortality in a Colombian Indigenous Community

This case study is one of the five winning entries from the 2019 GDI Case Study Competition.

In Morales, a predominately rural municipality in Colombia with a large indigenous population, there was a clear disparity in maternal mortality between indigenous Nasa people and non-indigenous women. In 2019, the Health Department of Morales initiated a new project that aimed to guarantee satisfactory maternal health care for the Nasa. The project intended to improve maternal health care through cooperation between the government health care system and the Nasa’s traditional practices, which valued giving birth in their own community, close to family, and incorporating rituals that reflected the Nasa belief system.

Development Challenge: Reducing maternal mortality. In the 42 days following childbirth, indigenous women died at a notably higher rate than non-indigenous women.

Project Solution: At the core of the project was continuous dialogue between Nasa leaders, the Nasa’s traditional birth attendants, and the town’s public servants. The project also included capacity building for culturally-sensitive and high-quality care during pregnancy, both in the Nasa’s community and at the hospital, and the creation of a spiritual space in the town hospital, enabling indigenous patients to feel safe and included. After undergoing training, hospital staff and Nasa birth attendants received a certificate from the departmental health secretary of Cauca, recognizing their knowledge in ancestral techniques and in clinical medicine.

Project Results: After project implementation began, more Nasa women went to the hospital for antenatal care. The project helped overcome barriers to communication and cooperation between Nasa and non-indigenous people. Meetings brining together stakeholders provided a channel for continuous feedback and understanding of the community’s needs.