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Paraguay: Photo Blog Reveals Dangers of Childbirth

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011.

Citizens of Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital, do not usually think of childbirth as a common cause of death for Paraguayan women. News regarding these issues occurring in the inner country rarely reach mainstream media. As a result, most Paraguayans are not aware of the high rates of death from childbirth and abortions in their own country. This is why running into Rodrigo Alfaro’s photo blog post [es] on death from childbirth in Paraguay is horrifying and shocking –even for a Paraguayan.

At the same time, his photos convey the reality of many Paraguayan women so much better than words ever could, prompting viewers to share these images with the world.

Be warned that the following images can be disturbing.

CLADEM's (Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Human Rights of Women) official figures [es] claim that Paraguay is at the top of adolescent pregnancy rates in Latin America, with 26 pregnant teenagers out of every 1000. And the death rate is also high: 25% of pregnant women who die are adolescents under the age of 19. But as photographer and blogger Rodrigo Alfaro writes in his post [es], the real number could be much higher, especially in the countryside:

Ésa es la situación en el Chaco Paraguayo, donde los médicos afirman que menos del 40% de los fallecidos son contabilizados para las estadísticas oficiales, que en poco se relacionan con la realidad en la cual se encuentran los pobladores -en su mayoría indígenas-, aislados del hospital por caminos de talco difíciles de transitar para ellos, y desconocidos para las camionetas todoterreno del director regional.

This is the situation in the Paraguayan Chaco, where doctors say that less than 40% of these deaths are counted for in official statistics, [statistics] that are barely related to the reality inhabitants face, -mostly indigenous –  isolated from the hospital by difficult roads for them to travel through and [roads] that are unknown to the regional director’s off-road trucks.

The Paraguayan Chaco is the western region of Paraguay (Asunción is in the eastern region), a semi-arid area with a low population density, of which indigenous people represent an important part. Alfaro writes about his conversation with an indigenous leader who explains how inaccessible health care is for them:

Las palabras de Rosalino González, líder de una comunidad indígena en Laguna Negra, acaban por describir una situación de abandono repetida a lo largo del continente(…):“De mi comunidad no podemos llegar al hospital más que en tractores o en mi moto, lo cual hace lento o peligroso venir con embarazadas o heridos, y del hospital no vienen nunca… salvo en elecciones, ahí vienen con sus promesas…”

Rosalino Gonzalez's words, leader of an indigenous community in Laguna Negra, describe a situation of abandonment repeated throughout the continent (…): “From my community we can only reach the hospital using tractors or my motorcycle, making it slow or dangerous to go with someone pregnant or injured, and from the hospital no one ever comes [to us] … except during elections, that’s when they arrive with promises …”

"She crossed the Chaco Boreal on foot with her son, that morning the doctor is not there. In rural areas, salaries are paid to doctors who do not exist."

Alfaro blogs about the major health care deficiencies he found in Paraguay, even in a hospital in Asunción where the situation is expected to be much better. Paraguayan blogger Mike Silvero confirms Alfaro's opinion in his blog Sin Cinto ni Corbata [es].

Free access to health care for Paraguayans was established in December 2009, but it didn’t solve the real problems: the lack of facilities for people who live far from the cities, the lack of doctors or exploitation of the ones available, the lack of infrastructure and medical equipment, and the inhumane conditions women are exposed to once they reach the few available hospitals. All of these, combined with the high rate of teenage pregnancy and clandestine abortions, result in the terrible reality captured in Alfaro’s photos.

"A dying child was treated and sent home with his mother. The inability to (conduct) studies in hospitals leaves him undiagnosed, now he must take care of himself in order to survive"

Although the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education have programs that promote reproductive and sexual health education, the government still has to cover basic ground in terms of providing adequate health and education for women. Currently, there are still thousands of women who don’t have access to education, and many are not able to reach hospitals because they live too far from them.

"The poor quality of medical supplies is inadmissible: in this case the needle breaks during epidural anesthesia in the marrow of this woman."

The images and captions in this post are used with the photographer's permission. His post is also available in English.

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011.

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