Gabriela Melendez is a nurse-midwife from Guatemala who began the first-ever midwifery programme at the university, the result of a partnership between civil society organizations and academia. She recruited young indigenous women to become students of the first generation of professional midwives in the most neglected communities, to help improve access to medical care and quality of maternal and newborn care. Through years of practice and dialogues with traditional midwives, Melendez works to integrate both necessary scientific competencies and a multicultural perspective recognizing knowledge of indigenous Mayan medicine preserved by traditional midwives –comadronas– at the community level. Melendez is also the founder of Asociación Corazón del Agua, a civil society organization working to provide access to quality care for low-income women in need via midwifery. She is actively advocating for the Guatemalan Ministry of Health to officially recognize the midwifery profession to eliminate barriers to their professional exercise
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Melendez successfully adapted the midwifery training process to online training and continued to lead the programme. Since the pandemic began, the demand for home births has increased greatly, and Melendez has accompanied her graduates to home births to ensure quality services are delivered. She sees the pandemic as having brought the opportunity to use technology both for the education of future midwives and for the development of educational processes for clients. Melendez is designing training programs and providing virtual consultations, which allow evaluation for whether a face-to-face visit is necessary, which allows us to accompany women while reducing risks for both them and us. She has also identified the need in Guatemala to address the increase in violence and sexual violence, unmet demand for family planning methods, and complications in accessing other health services not related to COVID-19 taking place during the pandemic, and is calling for action to ensure women have access to information and support networks necessary to improve their situation.