Leonora Pocaterrazas and Albina Chambe, Bolivia

Personal Stories:
Leonora Pocaterrazas and Albina Chambe, Bolivia

In Bolivia, indigenous tradition often means women give birth at home, fully clothed, squatting on the floor, with only family members to help. When Albina Chambe, 15, went into labour in a poor suburb of La Paz, her fiancé Grover, only 18 himself, wanted to take his wife to a hospital. But Albina's mother had delivered 13 children at home, without skilled assistance, and argued that Albina should follow tradition.

Soon, however, Albina's pains worsened, so Grover half-carried Albina on a 20-minute uphill climb to the nearest dirt road. He spent more than a day's pay for a taxi to the hospital. There a medical team safely delivered Luz Belen, the couple's new baby girl.

Leonora Pocaterrazas, 21, was not so lucky. When she went into labour in the high mountain village of Columpapa Grande, weeks ahead of schedule, her husband wasn't ready. "She told me she was in pain. I gave her a massage and then I went to ask my sister for help," he told visitors. "When I got back she had already had the baby."

The sister couldn't stop Leonora's bleeding, and the baby wasn't breathing. "The baby was too small. He died half an hour later," the husband said. Leonora died as well, leaving three other children behind.

For lack of measures against such risks over their lifetimes, one in every 47 Bolivian women will die in pregnancy or childbirth – one of Latin America's highest rates. UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports Bolivian government efforts to integrate skilled midwives and healthcare providers into the country's health system so that women at risk, like Leonora, are brought to hospitals in time for emergency care that can save their lives – and those of their newborns and their other children.

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