MANAGUA, Nicaragua — In 1998, Hurricane Mitch severely damaged Nicaragua’s infrastructure, negatively impacting quality of life and health care in the nation for the past 16 years. The foundation for sustainable development explains that “Health needs in Nicaragua are the result of poverty, geographical positioning, and a disorganized health care system.”
While the entire population struggles to access adequate health care and maintain sanitary living conditions, Nicaraguan women may encounter greater economic and political health care adversity than Nicaraguan men.
According to the World Health Organization, maternal and infant mortality rates remain high in Nicaragua, with the highest rates in poorest regions. Women in rural areas with little prenatal education and access to medical care have the highest rates of death during labor.
High mortality rates resulted from several economic and political factors in the country. The World Health Organization also asserts that HIV/AIDS cases among women grow at a faster rate than among men in Nicaragua. In 1999, the ratio of males to females with HIV/AIDS was 5:1. In 2005, the ratio changed to 3:1. Access to HIV/AIDS testing is limited for Nicaraguan women.
Additionally, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Nicaragua does not allow a woman to have an abortion under any circumstance. The Planned Parenthood Nicaragua Country Program website states, “As a result of these restrictions, many women turn to illegal abortion in often unsafe and unhygienic conditions that leave them susceptible to fatal complications. Adolescents in Nicaragua are especially vulnerable to unsafe abortion, with the second-highest adolescent fertility rate in Latin America.”
As noted on the Foundation for Sustainable Development website, the 2004 census showed that in Nicaragua, “the maternal mortality rate was among the highest in the Americas; while 62 percent of the mothers’ deaths were deemed avoidable, 82 percent were caused by health service deficiencies. In addition, 30 percent of the victims were under 19 years old, and many of the women die due to botched (and illegal) abortions.” These statistics exhibit a shortage of HIV/AIDS testing for women, reproductive health care and political concern for women’s safety.
Furthermore, domestic violence also affects a large percentage of Nicaraguan women, contributing to a need for mental health care among the female population. In 2013, lawmakers in Nicaragua amended the domestic violence laws. A Thomas Reuters Foundation article stated that the new law recommended women “mediate with their abusers over certain types of violence, including “lesser injuries,” psychological mistreatment and gender-related crimes that carry less than a five-year prison sentence.” As a result of this law, combined with the prevalence of domestic violence, Nicaragua’s health care system does not provide women with adequate mental care.
In response to these issues, Planned Parenthood Federation of America partners with AMNLAE, a program founded to provide medical care, to operate the Adolescent and Youth Project. This project educates young Nicaraguans about how to reduce unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The Foundation for Sustainable Development also promotes gender equality through education and empowerment campaigns.
While these programs offer Nicaraguan women and youth some support, many women seek a reform of the current health care system and laws surrounding it. In Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, women and children often protest in quest for more health care rights and a voice in their health care.