April 17th, 2020

COVID-19 and Gender-Based Health Inequity in Guatemala

By mid-April 2020, threats to public health have taken centre stage around the world. On every news station at any time of day, public health officials answer new questions about the coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission, treatments, and vaccines. However, as COVID-19 spreads to poorer and more vulnerable countries, it raises new and pressing questions about health equity: Who can afford to stay home from work? Who has access to water to wash their hands? Who has access to testing and treatment?

Past health crises, such as Ebola outbreaks in West Africa, have demonstrated that health inequity is often exacerbated in times of crisis. These health inequities often break down along socio-demographic lines, such as income, ethnicity, and gender. In Guatemala, poor indigenous populations living in rural communities have limited access to essential health and education services and basic infrastructure. These populations also bear a disproportionate amount of the national health burden. Women and girls in Guatemala are often most vulnerable because they lack control over resources and decision-making in their families and communities. It is also likely that women and girls in Guatemala are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than their male counterparts.

Using the digital health platform to support health equity.
Using the digital health platform to support health equity.

A gender-based analysis of COVID-19 vulnerability in Guatemala reveals the following concerns:

  • Re-prioritization of Ministry of Health (MOH) resources and lack of personnel protective equipment may contribute to reduced essential maternal, child, and newborn health services.
  • Quarantines and lock-downs may further restrict women and girls' autonomy over health-related decision-making. 
  • Women and girls are often primary caregivers within families and represent a majority of frontline health workers in Guatemala, and are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19.
  • Social isolation may exacerbate gender-based violence, while services intended to protect victims may be interrupted.

TulaHealth and our local partner - TulaSalud - continue to coordinate with the MOH to use the community digital health platform to support its response to COVID-19 in Guatemala. We will continue to support the equal participation of women, realization of women's and girls' full human rights, and equal access to and control of resources and benefits of development. Supporting gender equality in Guatemala in times of crisis is integral to improve health, reduce poverty, and build social justice and equity in marginalized communities.