Ensuring intercultural maternal health care for Mayan women in Guatemala: a qualitative assessment

Cult Health Sex. 2013;15 Suppl 3:S365-82. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2013.779026. Epub 2013 May 29.


Indigenous (Mayan) women in Guatemala experience a disproportionate burden of maternal mortality and morbidity, as well as institutional failures to respect their rights. The Guatemalan Ministry of Health has started to offer 'intercultural' services that respect Mayan obstetric practices and integrate them with biomedical care. We purposefully selected 19 secondary-level public health facilities of 9 departments that provided maternal healthcare to indigenous women. We carried out semi-structured interviews with biomedical providers (44), Mayan midwives or comadronas (45), and service users (18), exploring the main characteristics of intercultural care. We found that most facilities initiated the implementation of culturally appropriate services, such as accompaniment by a comadrona or family member, use the traditional teas or choosing the birthing position, but they still lacked standardisation. Comadronas generally felt excluded from the health system, although most biomedical providers reported that they were making important strides to be respectful and inclusive. Most users wanted the option of culturally appropriate services but typically did not receive them. In the health facilities, biomedicine is still the dominant discourse. Efforts at offering intercultural care still need strengthening and further monitoring. Involvement and participation of comadronas and indigenous women is key to moving forward to true intercultural services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health
  • Cultural Competency*
  • Female
  • Guatemala / ethnology
  • Health Services, Indigenous*
  • Humans
  • Indians, Central American*
  • Male
  • Maternal Health Services / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Pregnancy
  • Qualitative Research
  • Reproductive Health Services*