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Casa Materna Lights the Way for Change in Maternal Health

~Kitty Madden, Casa Materna Volunteer Social Worker


A mother receives her daily morning check-up at Casa Materna

We began simply – a tiny light illuminating the darkness of maternal death in Nicaragua in 1990. Little did
we know then that our Casa Materna would be a vital spark— lighting the way for widespread systemic change in maternal health care in Nicaragua—a revolutionary change that was accomplished by peaceful means. This peaceful foundation is what continues to set us apart from other similar programs being
instituted throughout the country

As we begin our 25th year, we remember how in 1990, a woman died giving birth every minute of every day somewhere in the world. This daily death rate of 1,440 mothers made no headlines, nor was it mentioned on the nightly news. It was called the
“silent epidemic.” In Nicaragua, the reported rate back then was 190 maternal deaths/100,000 live births and in some parts of the mountainous Matagalpa region the rate was as high as 375. Women died because they had no voice and they didn’t count, especially in a country recovering from a violent counter-revolution.

The idea of the Casa Materna grew out of a peaceful movement that was started by Mary Ann Jackman, the young  Nicaraguan sociologist for whom the Casa is named. She gathered a group to find ways for women to help other women. After the tragic accident that took her life, the group continued to meet and take positive action through international solidarity. Mariana Yonusg Blanco from Venezuela had the initial idea for the Casa Materna. In 1988, Maria Cavalleri, an Italian midwife, Edith Gonzalez, a Nicaraguan nurse, and Gloria Compte, a Spanish pediatrician, joined together to write a formal proposal to El Instituto de la Mujer, a women’s group in Spain. Purchased in 1990, the Casa building was in essence a gift from the people of Cuba. We are now one of more than 100 Casa Maternas in Nicaragua, thanks to the United Nations’ Millennium Goals and the availability of loans from the World Bank. Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health has now made a commitment to identifying and caring for rural mothers at risk, providing important pre-natal and post-natal services. We regard our success as a major precursor to this movement, although we are the only Casa Materna in the Matagalpa region that specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
casa-materna-milliennium-goalsRecent updates on the Millennium Goals show a 47% decrease in maternal death worldwide since 1990. In Nicaragua, the reported decrease is closer to 74%. We are grateful to ProNica and others who have been part of this “silent revolution,” that has enabled Nicaragua to meet its Goal.

Looking back to 1990 at the small spark of light that was our beginning, a light fueled by international solidarity, we give thanks for the beacon that the Casa Materna Mary Ann Jackman has become for the women we serve and for those developing similar programs. We are especially grateful for our committed staff who have welcomed more than 17,000 mothers and newborns and created an oasis of compassionate care.

We also give profound thanks for ProNica and all the other friends who have helped make a place of peaceful birthing possible. *