In the best of times, Guatemala is one of the most disadvantaged countries in Central America in terms of access to contraception, maternal deaths, and adolescent birth rates. And we are most certainly not living in the best of times. The COVID-19 global pandemic has had obvious effects around the globe in terms of overall health, economic stability, and equity. The effects of strict quarantine orders In Guatemala and restricted intra-village movement have had disastrous effects on families who were already struggling to survive. Farmers who were already experiencing failing crops due to climate change and therefore reduced income now cannot even consider moving to more urban areas to look for work. Residents of areas where COVID-19 outbreaks were identified were placed under absolute isolation orders and all incoming goods/services were prohibited.
In 2020, WINGS suspended all clinical services from March 16 through June 11. During that time, our administrative staff and youth program staff continued working from home, setting up home offices, virtual trainings, and relying on WhatsApp and Zoom more than we ever could have imagined we would. In June, we gradually re-opened our clinical services, starting with our clinic in Antigua, where we could have the most control to assure the highest level of contamination reduction and adherence to PPE use and protocols.
At the beginning of October, the Guatemalan Government officially ended the state of calamity, removing nation-wide restrictions, and transferring the continued management of COVID mitigation to the Ministry of Health and municipal authorities. We began to see increasing movement across many sectors. This decision, as needed as it may have been, increased the risk of more infections and disruptions to an already decimated health system.
In terms of the current state of our clinical service provision, we have reopened our Antigua and Guatemalan City clinics and are hosting regional clinics with stringent safety precautions in place. We are constantly making modifications to our services and protocols in order to protect our staff and patients.
Despite the restrictions of the pandemic in 2020, WINGS ensured access to quality, affordable reproductive health services through a network of 30 Volunteer Health Promoters, 3 mobile medical units, 3 stationary clinics (Antigua, Retalhuleu, and Guatemala City Dump), and 4 regional satellite teams (Retalhuleu/Suchitepéquez, Santa Rosa, Chimaltenango, and Alta Verapaz), providing educational talks, private counseling, short and long-acting reversible contraception, cervical cancer screening/treatment, and permanent birth control procedures.