Indigenous women in Peru are dying in pregnancy and childbirth because poor rural areas are not getting their fair share of government health services.
Health centre in rural Huancavelica, Peru, 26 September 2008. Maternal mortality rates in Peru are among the worst in the region.
Peru has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in Latin America. The deep inequalities in Peruvian society are reflected in the fact that women in rural areas are twice as likely as those in urban areas to die from causes related to pregnancy.
Poverty is the most important factor that determines if a pregnancy will lead to loss of life. But poverty cannot be separated from discrimination in Peru. Indigenous communities are more likely to be poor, rural and excluded from the mainstream. Health spending is unequally distributed in ways that systematically favour urban, coastal areas and perpetuate neglect of the poorest, rural departments.
Vast areas of Peru are covered by difficult terrain – mountains in the Andes and jungle in the Amazon region. In both areas, pregnant women have severe problems in reaching a clinic if they need treatment. They face a long and difficult walk to the nearest health centre or the prospect of paying for transport that they cannot afford. The costs of transport and treatment prevent many women living in poverty from getting the care they should have.
Once they reach the health centre, they will often find that it does not have the resources to deal with emergencies in childbirth.
Indigenous women face additional barriers; such as not being able to understand or communicate with Spanish-speaking health professionals, or having their traditional customs and habits misunderstood by doctors, nurses and midwives.
Equally, health professionals in remote areas face difficult working conditions – far away from their homes, with inadequate training, insufficient resources, and based in communities where they may not understand the language or customs.
Access to information about sexual and reproductive health is vital to women, particularly during pregnancy and childbirth. This information is rarely available to women in poor, rural and Indigenous communities.
As in many countries, women living in poverty are largely excluded from political decision-making processes. Their voices are rarely heard and their views rarely influence the state's laws and policies, which means that these violations of human rights pass largely unnoticed by society and those in authority.
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