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Carleton College

Publication Date

Fall 2006

Program Name

Brazil: Public Health and Community Welfare


Traditional midwives play important roles in the provision of maternal healthcare services in developing countries. Especially in rural, marginalized communities, traditional midwives help to provide obstetric care when local governmental health services fail to do so. The healthcare provision that traditional midwives “should” undertake is a subject debated by public health and development policy makers who seek to reduce maternal mortality rates and improve maternal health in rural communities in developing countries. This study examines the practices of traditional midwives in indigenous Tupinambá communities located in Southern Bahia, Brazil. It seeks to define the contemporary role of traditional midwives within three Tupinambá communities: Aguas de Olivença, Curupitanga and Aguipe da Cima. The study defines traditional midwives’ community roles through an examination of the way in which community health agents, Fundação Nacional da Saúde (FUNASA) maternal health care protocol and traditional midwives either work together or separately to provide maternal health services for pregnant Tupinambá women. Analysis of this data reveals that while the role occupied by traditional midwives in the provision of maternal health services diminished during the last decade, it has taken on two new dynamics. Today, traditional midwives are accepted by both community health agents and community members as legitimate providers of emergency obstetric services. In addition, they provide community health agents with natural remedies and traditional medicines, which are then passed on to community members by the community health agents. Given the existence of an informal (non-government sponsored) relationship between community health agents, community members and traditional midwives, this study concludes with a policy recommendation for the Fundação Nacional da Saúde. It recommends that FUNASA both encourage and develop an official relationship between community health agents and traditional midwives based on cooperative learning. Such a partnership, it is argued, will strengthen community knowledge on obstetric health and also improve the quality of attendance at emergency childbirths that take place in rural, indigenous communities.


Maternal and Child Health | Obstetrics and Gynecology

ISP_BRH_FA06_Caitlin_2.pdf (709 kB)
Works cited and appendices

Related Files ISP_BRH_FA06_Caitlin_2.pdf (709 kB)
Works cited and appendices


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