Celebrating Together on National Nonprofit Day
Posted: August 16, 2022

Ira Stollak and Henry Perry, MD, PhD, MPH

In the remote highlands of Guatemala, Flori, a young pregnant Maya woman goes into labor.  In rural Guatemala, health centers and trained personnel are few, and too many mothers deliver in their dirt-floored homes. Flori is fortunate, as she lives in a village that has partnered with Curamericas Global (www.curamericas.org), a Raleigh-based nonprofit, which pairs community-led efforts from 17 villages in the area with funding from the Guatemalan government and US donors, to build and operate community maternity centers called Casas Maternas Rurales

When Flori arrives at the Casa Materna Rural at 2 am, cold and frightened, a well-trained Auxiliary Obstetric Nurse is there to receive and calm her. She speaks to Flori in her native Mayan language and provides an immediate assessment. The nurse determines that Flori’s blood pressure is elevated, an indication of a dangerous complication called pre-eclampsia that can rapidly cause seizures and death. The nurse quickly arranges for Flori to be transferred to the nearest hospital four hours away.  Once she arrives, appropriate treatment is given, and a healthy baby girl is born.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the mountain, a very different story unfolds. Another young pregnant Maya woman is also in labor at her home attended by a comadrona, a traditional birth attendant. The comadrona is an elder in the community. She has no formal training, supplies or equipment to support the birthing mother. If something goes wrong, as it does in about one in every five pregnancies, the mother or child’s life could be in grave danger.  Indeed, this young mother suddenly develops seizures. Both she and her baby die from eclampsia, a severe manifestation of pre-eclampsia that occurs when the disease is not recognized and managed properly.

For almost two decades now, Curamericas Global has been working in areas of Guatemala that have some of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the Western hemisphere. Curamericas Global partners with communities to help them provide high-quality preventive and curative care that brings health to every home, and a circle of support to every pregnant woman and young child.

In the 21st century, there is no justifiable reason why any pregnant woman or any child should die from readily preventable or treatable conditions; yet every three seconds a woman or child dies, this amounts to a staggering 7.5 million needless deaths each year.  This is a breach of the fundamental human right to accessible and quality healthcare.

There is an old African saying: “When a mother dies, a world dies.” And they die for no reason other than that they are poor. Most of these maternal deaths are in developing countries, and they are almost entirely preventable with the appropriate care, which can be provided by inexpensive, locally trained community health workers, at simple, low-tech facilities, such as at centers like the Casa Materna Rural model.

It is time to end this terrible inequity. Collectively the world has the resources to accomplish this, and National Nonprofit Day serves as a poignant reminder. For almost four decades, Curamericas Global has been saving the lives of mothers and children through low-cost, effective, community-based approaches that reach even the most isolated households. Our methodology starts with the community and builds the program around its greatest needs and priorities. As such, we have achieved dramatic success in vastly different contexts around the world – from the mountains of Bolivia, to the urban centers of Haiti, to the farmlands of Kenya. 

Curamericas Global’s programs have broken new ground in reaching those most in need in remote regions and in areas devastated by natural disasters or civil war. Even in the most desperate of situations, we find that people care about the health of their families and that, when united and mobilized, can provide the fire and innovation to make and sustain change within their own communities. This is echoed in the battle cry of the heroes who work at the Casa Materna Rural “si nos unimos, hacemos milagros.” If we work together, we will make miracles. 

On National Nonprofit Day, let each of us reflect on not only the positive impact that nonprofits have, but our own capacity to get involved and create change in the world around us. We have it in our power to make sure that no woman, anywhere in the world, need die in childbirth, and no child need die on the day they are born.

Connecting with or making a contribution to Curamericas Global (www.curamericas.org) or another similar organization that is dedicated to saving lives of mothers and their children is one way you can commit to making measurable and sustainable change for the global community.

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