Striving to end home births in Honduras

Tatu Blomqvist
Tatu Blomqvist
Tatu Blomqvist
Tatu Blomqvist
Tatu Blomqvist
Tatu Blomqvist
Tatu Blomqvist

Motherhood is in no danger of becoming less common in the Central American state of Honduras. Many girls become pregnant when they are teenagers and typically have several children. The Red Cross visits rural villages and offers information on contraception and infectious diseases, encouraging women to give birth at the health centre rather than at home.

Ofelina Gastillo (51) lives in the mountain region of  Marcala, a few hours' drive from Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. If anyone knows a thing or two about being a mother, it's Ofelina – she has given birth to 11 children. The first of her children already has three children of her own.

A while ago, Ofelina opened a guesthouse in Marcala for women soon to give birth. 

“Mothers should come here about a week before they expect to give birth, in order to avoid complications. Here, they can rest and talk to other expectant mothers. When labour begins, the health centre is just across the road”, Ofelina explains.

Resting comfortably at the health centre is Norma Pineda Morales (36), the happy mother of a one-hour old baby girl.  Now a mother of four, Norma arrived at the guesthouse the previous afternoon, because she had started to experience some pain.

“I was worried, because I'm already 36 and had been warned of the risks associated with my age.  Luckily, the baby is healthy!”

A long walk to the delivery room

Enrique Ortega, a healthcare advisor with Marcala's local chapter of the Red Cross, is delighted to hear that Norma made it to the healthcare centre in time to have her baby there. Since 2010, the Honduras Red Cross has focused on actions taken to improve the health of mothers and small children. Their efforts have borne fruit: an increasingly large number of mothers depart in time for the nearest healthcare centre.

But the scarce availability and disproportionate cost of transport in the mountains remains a challenge.  Most women walk to the guesthouse, even though it may take several hours to get there.

“We encourage women to begin saving money for transportation as early as possible. If they have to leave unexpectedly, there will be no time to walk”, Ortega says.

Ortega is on an important mission, supported by local Red Cross volunteers. Amparo Romero Argueta (27) and Karina Gómez Domínguez (19) make house calls to pregnant mothers and mothers of children under the age of two in the mountain villages. They prepare a birth plan for each pregnant woman.

“We explain the different stages of pregnancy and the potential risks involved. We discuss the best place, time and method of delivery with the expectant mother. We also make plans for someone to look after the other children and to prepare food for the husband while his wife is away”, says Karina Gómez Domínguez.

Sex education is taboo

Karina and Amparo also discuss HIV and AIDS, as well as family planning, with the expectant mothers. Teenage pregnancies and lack of awareness of infectious diseases continue to be a problem in Honduras. 

“Sex education is still a taboo, which makes it very difficult to change behaviour”, Amparo says.

She knows what it is like to have children at a very young age, and can easily identify with young mothers. Amparo, a mother of four, had her first child at the age of 13.

“I had to spend a long time at home looking after the children and couldn't go to school. Fortunately, two years ago I was able to begin studying community health and alo participated in Red Cross training”, says a contented Amparo. 

This time, Amparo and Karina are visiting Ermelinda Chicas at Sisiguarra village. Ermelinda's two-year-old daughter, Selma, is weighed and measured. Amparo and Karina also want to check the diet of Selma and her brother Elieser, now in his second year at school. Everything seems to be in order. Selma weighs 11 kilos and is a healthy child.

Ermelinda gave birth to both of her children at home, with the assistance of the traditional birth attendant. Luckily, there were no complications. But the Red Cross still has some work to do in the village.

The work carried out by the Finnish Red Cross in Honduras forms part of the long-term development cooperation funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.