Posted by Doreen Higgins on Nov 15, 2017
We welcomed Dr. Miriam Rittmeyer this past Wednesday to talk to us about women’s status and health in Guatemala.  Dr. Rittmeyer is the Board Chairman of Phalarope, a non-profit established in 2016; she is an MD, PhD, and has a master’s degree in Public Health.   The organization is devoted to the cause of education and health of women, focused at present on Guatemala.  Its mandate is to ‘empower women and at the same time involve men.’  She described her organization as “shoestring,” result oriented, operating in an environmentally sustainable and scientific manner.
While the education level and accessibility of health care for Guatemalan women has improved over the past few years, more work is desperately needed.  The improvements already seen are in terms of training and support for birth attendants.  However, Guatemala, which is predominately rural, has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world at 113 deaths per 100,000 live births and 50% of deliveries are by traditional Mayan midwives. Many of these midwives are illiterate and unable to deal with emergency cases. (There are 39 different languages in the country.)  The establishment of Casas Maternas for the management of high risk pregnancies and the training of technical midwives at the local university is already in place. However, there are substantial ongoing obstacles rooted in the failure of most would-be midwives to speak Spanish, speaking only their native languages, and the lack of respect for what they do by the medical profession in the country.
Dr. Rittmeyer went on to speak of the work of her organization at a town near Guatemala City in the  area named Chimaltenango; it is a town of 650,000 people, and women are at a major disadvantage in health terms because they have no means of getting to a clinic since there is no transportation.  Her organization, Phalarope, has partnered with a local organization, FUDI, which has a Health Center to offer education and interventions to reduce infant and maternal mortality, including combating malnutrition.  This partnership supports work by traditional midwives acting as “maternal and child surveillance agents” to promote health, helps patients navigate the system, and provides training for future midwives.
The ownership of phones by women has been a revolution. They can communicate; Phalarope will now capture data so that they can accumulate information and demonstrate both difficulties and progress. Dr. Rittmeyer told us that her organization plans to collaborate further with FUDI to provide classrooms to teach literacy and many other subjects such as sewing, gardening, and handicrafts. Key subjects include nutrition and economic empowerment; the latter has the long term potential of raising women’s ability to help themselves and their children, and can lead to an ability to earn a living which can change their lives.
Below is a photo of Dr. Rittmeyer and President Toni.