By Reps. Renee Ellmers and Diane Black
The Washington Times | March 6, 2015
Quetzaltenango, Guatemala – Manuala Tum, 25, cannot read or write. She lives in a dusty one-bedroom house with eight family members on just a few dollars a day. But that’s not stopping her from saving lives in her community.
For the last six months, she has been working with the global poverty-fighting organization CARE as a volunteer community health promoter. Her job is to help pregnant women prepare for the birth of their children. In Guatemala, where Manuala lives, pregnancy can be a death sentence: a mother there is five times more likely to die while giving birth than a mother in the United States.
We met Manuala last month when we traveled to Guatemala to learn how the U.S. government and nonprofit organizations like CARE are expanding access to health services and education in order to reduce high maternal mortality rates. Maternal mortality is a global problem: more than 800 women die from child birth every day.
Our visit to speak to healthcare volunteers like Manuala and a group of expecting mothers hit close to home. Long before we became elected Representatives, we dedicated our lives to building healthy communities. As nurses, we know firsthand the challenges around tending to the wounded, caring for the sick, and helping patients recover so they can live longer, happier lives.
We met Manuala at one of her community health sessions on the outskirts of Quetzaltenango. This area, known as the Western Highlands, is one of the poorest regions in Guatemala. Among the indigenous Mayan population where Manuela is from and works, nearly half of the children under 5 are chronically malnourished. When we asked expecting mothers what their families normally eat, they tell us rice and beans for both lunch and dinner and an egg a week for protein.
Our nursing experience in the U.S. taught us how to cope with emergency complications for expecting mothers—but the situation is even more daunting for mothers in rural Guatemala. It’s a struggle every day to access basic health services and education. Women, for example, lack transportation to get to a doctor or the money to pay for the ride. The nearest hospital is two hours away.
Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and Diane Black (R-TN) are both nurses.