Improving Maternal Health in Mexico

MacArthur Foundation-Sponsored Scholarship & Training Program Helps to Strengthen the Midwifery Model in the Region

By Karla Pizano Naciff, Program Manager, IIE Latin America and the Caribbean 

Starting a family shouldn’t result in an early death due to complications with pregnancy and childbirth, but in Latin America, many women face disproportionately high odds of experiencing maternal health challenges with maternal death rates reaching as high as 473 women per 100,000 in the region, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in Mexico has decreased by half in the past three decades, rates in rural communities, where many people lack access to basic medical attention, are higher than in urban settings. And with a 70% rate of birth by Cesarean section, Mexico has one of the highest rates in the world – well above the 10 to 15% rate recommended by the WHO.

Midwives are a critical part of reducing the number of unnecessary Cesarean sections as well as improving overall maternal health and the quality of medical attention given to women. Maternity clinics led by midwives can help to relieve an already overburdened health care system while providing personalized attention for lower-risk deliveries. This is particularly important to avoid incidents of obstetric violence.


Professional midwifery is not widespread in Mexico yet, but in recent years, organizations like the  MacArthur Foundation (MAF) Mexico have begun to invest in it. In 2015, MAF began a three-year grantmaking strategy to improve maternal and reproductive health in Mexico by strengthening and supporting professional midwifery.

With the support of MAF, IIE’s Latin American and Caribbean Office (IIE LAC) developed the Midwifery Training Scholarship and Capacity Building Program to increase the number of trained midwives, to improve the institutional capacity of schools and midwifery-related organizations, and to strengthen the midwifery model in the country. The two-year program began in 2017 and features student scholarships and activities and institutional grants.

From October 11 to 13 in Mexico City, IIE LAC hosted a Leadership Event for 45 selected participants of the program. The students hailed from 13 institutions located in 9 different states across the country. The event provided advice and tools for leadership development, communication skills, multiculturalism, and a space to foster networking, understanding, and integration among students with six different types of midwifery training, ranging from perinatal specialist nurses to traditionally trained midwives. The event fostered the creation of networks for students to continue to pave the way for the development of a midwifery model in their communities as well as the country at-large, where midwifery is yet to be generally accepted as a professional public health career.


The attendees were exceptionally participative and demonstrated their dedication to practicing and supporting midwifery throughout the event. All surveyed participants considered the event to be useful for their professional development because it connected them with other midwifery students. This is what some of the students had to say:

“Thank you very much for all your effort and work. […] Now I have more information to develop my research project and realize how necessary it is. I learned other ways of thinking as well as strategies that will help me in my academic, personal and professional development. All of the information and tools that I was provided, I have shared with my colleagues and teachers, […] and we plan to invite some of our new colleagues to events, so they can share their vision and the work they do in their home states to make changes in midwifery… I’d like to thank you once again for the opportunity to attend the event, the facilitators, the place, the topics, absolutely everything was impressive.”

“The event was a great experience for me; I am very grateful for all the knowledge I am taking with me regarding leadership that I will certainly put into practice, not just in my professional life, but also in my personal life. I am particularly grateful for what I learned about negotiating because we will always need to come to agreements in this life. However, the most important thing for me was meeting individuals that share the same vision, mission and passion, even when they are hundreds of kilometers away. These are the people that will become our best allies for making changes in society. The event allowed many of us to feel motivated, full of faith and hopeful that one day women will have a more visible place in the world, ending all kinds of violence, stereotypes and prejudice. “Grateful” is the word I would use to describe the event, my new colleagues, the [MacArthur] Foundation, the organizers, and everyone whose behind-the-scenes work allowed for this great event to take place.”

To date, the program has had three scholarship periods, with the latest August- December 2018 cycle currently supporting 254 midwifery students across 12 states in Mexico.Thanks to our IIE LAC office for their constant support, particularly to our director Philippa Nuttall for her support, and also to Belén Plascencia who provided crucial logistical support. To learn more about the Midwifery Training Scholarship and Capacity Building Program, click here and follow IIE LAC on the social media channels listed on