On the final day of our our recent Mobile Clinic in Riobamba, Ecuador we visited the community of Lirio San Jose, a small village set deep in the rolling hills of Ecuador’s Andean highlands. Upon arriving at the schoolhouse where our Clinic would be hosted, our student volunteers were surprised to find a small team of local health professionals that would also be visiting patients that day. This team was comprised of employees of Ecuador’s state-run medical system, and they were in the community of Lirio San Jose conducting wellness checks on pregnant women and newborn children in the area.
After speaking with the team, our student volunteers found that Ecuador had recently introduced a new program designed to encourage pregnant women to give birth at local hospitals or health centers, rather than in their own homes. Another effect of the community’s physicial isolation, in addition to limited access to general health services, is that many women deliver their children at home rather than traveling to a hospital. This program keeps tabs on pregnant women in the region, assessing their health as their pregnancies’ progress, and providing education and incentives to encourage women to visit a hospital to deliver their child.
The team expressed enthusiasm about the potential benefits of the plan, which is still in its early stages of implementation. However, one obstetrician also highlighted another, more deeply set cultural issue that was affecting the welfare of local families: local women, even those who delivered their children at a hospital, were simply having too many babies! She explained that a family with ten or more children was hard-set to come up with the resources to provide for all — for instance, to nourish all children sufficiently, or to direct resources to higher education for each child. In order to escape the cycle of poverty, husbands and wives will need to set themselves towards reducing the number of offspring they produce.
We were happy to see that a team of local, government-sponsored workers was delivering aid to such a rural village. The program they described has the potential to reduce the rate of infant and maternal mortality in the region in relation to childbirth. Yet, many more changes — including changes in cultural values — need to come in order for these families to fully release themselves from the constraints of poverty.