Improving the health and empowerment of migrants, women, and children in Guatemala during the COVID-19 pandemic
This project will study the effects of COVID-19 on the health of refugees and Indigenous populations in parts of rural Guatemala that are experiencing recent waves of refugees migrating into Indigenous communities. This project builds on the existing Network of Community Health Defenders, which monitors healthcare services and policies, and will expand the Network from 30 to 35 rural Indigenous municipalities in Guatemala.
In recent years, the Defenders have reported that migrants deported from Mexico or the USA are choosing to stay and live in the Indigenous communities rather than returning to their countries of origin. This is leading to tensions and hostilities within already economically vulnerable communities, and now the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating vulnerabilities of women and their families in host communities, as well as among refugees and migrants. To inform the rapid response component of this project, the Defenders will assess health needs, perceptions of COVID-19 risk of infection, and related fears of refugees, migrants, women, and children, and the barriers they experience to access available public services. Based on the findings, and through a community participation approach, the researchers will design policy engagement strategies and specific programs for these vulnerable populations. The strategies and programs will emphasize the empowerment of women.
For longer-term preparedness, the project will also analyze how national and social media and other cultural factors are contributing to narratives that maintain and exacerbate gender inequalities, increase fear of the health system among women and other vulnerable populations, and increase social rejection and subsequent health risks of migrants. The project will test positive communication strategies and messages to reduce the fear of COVID-19 among refugees, migrants, women, and communities, support gender equality, and build trust between users of services and healthcare providers — key elements in pandemic preparedness and resilience.