Supporting mothers and babies in El Salvador

28 August 2020

Blanca, a mother in El Salvador with her youngest daughter

Blanca, a mother, in El Salvador with her youngest daughter.

CAFOD is supporting the work of local experts at the Ana Manganaro clinic in El Salvador who are reaching out to isolated rural communities to provide primary healthcare focusing on safe pregnancy, childbirth and improved nutrition for pregnant women and young children.

Blanca, a mother, shares her experience of receiving support from the Ana Manganaro clinic during her pregnancy and beyond.

The Ana Manganaro clinic

“Whenever I’ve arrived here, they have always taken care of me,” says Blanca with a sigh of relief. She holds her youngest daughter her arms. Her baby’s dark brown eyes sparkle.

Blanca is a proud mother of three living in Guarjila, northern El Salvador. During her three pregnancies Blanca received vital care from the Ana Manganaro clinic. The clinic specialises in maternal and child health and nutrition.

As you approach the Ana Manganaro clinic from the unpaved dirt road , you are met with lush green trees like Caribbean Pine, banana, and palm trees. Inside the clinic is a yellow courtyard with a brightly coloured mural painting featuring St Oscar Romero and the clinic’s founding doctor, Sister Ana Manganaro. Vibrant paintings of local life show women sowing seeds and maize growing. It feels serene here.

Barriers to quality healthcare

The department of Chalatenango, where the village of Guarjila is located, is one of the poorest regions in El Salvador. Unemployment is high and families largely rely on small-scale agriculture to earn a living. Vulnerable communities have limited access to nutritious food and are often unaware of the importance of a varied and nutritious diet. This often leads to malnutrition in children under five, as well as anaemia among women of child-bearing age.

Like many other countries in Central America, access to quality healthcare in El Salvador is limited. There are often very few health services available in rural areas. This means families must travel long distances to receive care. The poorest families, living in rural areas like Guarjila, are simply unable to afford the expensive cost of healthcare. And even if they could, health facilities are usually poorly resourced.

Vulnerable women in remote areas are often the least likely to receive adequate healthcare. A combination of poverty, poor healthcare services and a lack of health-related information leads to high maternal and child mortality rates. For children that do survive, the threat of malnutrition lingers.

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Promoting safe pregnancy and good nutrition

Blanca and her daughter at a check-up at the Ana Manganaro clinic

Blanca and her daughter at a check-up at the Ana Manganaro clinic

To respond to these health challenges, CAFOD are supporting the work of local experts at the Ana Manganaro clinic. We are reaching out to isolated rural communities and Honduran migrants from the border regions to provide primary healthcare focusing on safe pregnancy, childbirth and improved nutrition for pregnant women and children under two.

Sitting around a wooden table, members of the healthcare team use a whiteboard, colourful booklets and pictures to deliver talks to pregnant mothers about breastfeeding, how to take care of young babies, the postpartum period and the importance of nutritious food. Through discussions and group activities, mothers like Blanca learn about the danger signs for new-borns and food recommendations for preventing anaemia.

A Maternity Waiting Home has also been set up and extended for women in their final weeks of pregnancy. This Waiting Home prioritises women who are high risk and live in hard to reach places, with the aim of reducing childbirth complications.

Blanca is very pleased with the healthcare she has received at the clinic and can see how it has improved over the years.

“The clinic has helped me a lot since I was pregnant with my first child,” Blanca told us. “At that time, the clinic was a little different to how it is now. Before, there were no health talks and there were check-ups, but only sometimes. Now there are monthly check-ups and talks. With my most recent child it was even better because at the clinic there is a gynaecologist and an ultrasound. Before you had to go to Chalate [another town] for care.”

Setting up organic home gardens

To improve the nutrition of mothers and babies, the clinic has also set up organic gardens which families are encouraged to replicate at home. Blanca has been busy learning about growing a home garden and has lots of exciting plans for what she would like to grow.

“I’d like to learn how to grow plants that people use a lot like chipilin, chaya [popular leafy vegetables rich in iron] and lettuce. I’m also interested in growing radishes, tomatoes and chillies.”

For Blanca, creating a home garden has many advantages.

“The home garden will help our family finances because if you have a home garden you don’t need to go out and buy vegetables, you just have to pick them and can use them for things like soup. You don’t have to wait to earn a dollar to then buy your vegetables.”

Blanca also feels very positive about the nutritional benefits for her family. She is delighted that her daughter is already enjoying eating carrots, potatoes, and leafy vegetables.

“Giving children a good diet means they can develop healthily.”

Responding to coronavirus

In addition to supporting mothers and babies, the health clinic has also been utilising CAFOD funds to respond to the coronavirus crisis. They have been focusing on raising awareness among local communities on essential preventative measures, like hand washing, social distancing and facemasks.

The team have also been carrying out rapid consultations for patients with respiratory problems. They continue to raise awareness via home visits, phone consultations, pamphlets and community radio.

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