By: Joanna Hoffman, Special Projects Manager
In the early 1970s, Guadalupe Arizpe De La Vega read a newspaper article about a poor mother of nine children who was imprisoned after she stabbed herself in the stomach to prevent a tenth pregnancy. After visiting the woman in jail, De La Vega realized how limited information on and access to family planning services were in Mexico, and particularly for poor and marginalized women.
She then went on to found the private, non-profit Hospital de la Familia, which offers holistic, sliding-scale health care and counseling for the women of Juarez, Mexico. To date, the hospital has treated more than 1.7 million patients and overseen the healthy births of more than 116,000 babies.
There is a pronounced need for increased access to quality maternal health care in Mexico, where maternal mortality has decreased by 36% since 1990, yet is still the highest in all of Latin America. Indigenous and poor women are the most impacted; women in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero states are 70% more likely to die in childbirth than the national average, and indigenous women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than non-indigenous women. Accessing health care requires navigating a number of obstacles: user fees, transportation, language and cultural barriers.
De La Vega is committed to addressing these obstacles head-on. In addition to assisting with childbirth, the hospital also provides emergency care and offers nursing training programs to local women. With an initial enrollment of 20 students in 1993, the officially-accredited program expanded to 570 students in 2010. De La Vega would have accepted more, but there was no space. To avoid disappointing future hopeful nurses, she is now working to build a second school.
Through her non-profit agency Salud y Desarrollo Comunitario (SEDAC), De La Vega also runs a community health volunteer program, Promotora Voluntarias. The estimated 1,200 volunteers work on a grassroots level to inform their peers and neighbors on maternal health, family planning, cervical and breast cancer screenings, HIV/AIDS prevention, adolescent education on reproductive health, and access to health care.
In 2010, De La Vega was nominated for a CNN Heroes Award for her outstanding contributions to maternal health in Juarez. The 75-year old grandmother is still hard at work, inspired and impassioned: “I get the privilege of experiencing the magic moment of change from sickness to health, from darkness to light, from apathy to enthusiasm. This is what gives me meaning to my life."
Flickr photo courtesy of Bread for the World