Prenatal Care

Date: c. 1980
Owner: National Library of Medicine
Source Type: Images


This poster, published by Brazil's Program for Women's and Children's Health, encourages pregnant women to "Have a Prenatal Exam" because "mother and child cannot count on luck." The health of women and children is now one of the major objectives of the PAHO, but--until the 1940s--the Pan American Sanitary Bureau (precursor to the PAHO) largely ignored these issues. Beginning with its formation in 1902 (as the International Sanitary Bureau), the focus was on public sanitation, especially of Latin American port cities, an objective that reflected U.S. interests in Latin America. The U.S. sought to ensure that bacteria and parasites were not spread through inter-American commerce (which increased dramatically with construction of the Panama Canal) because diseases inhibited the U.S.'s ability to profit from trade with Latin America.

According to historian Anne-Emmanuelle Birn, it was Latin American delegates who did the most to make women's and children's health important to the PASB as a whole. Latin America had a strong tradition of emphasizing the health of women and their children, a cultural predisposition that can be traced back to indigenous healers in the pre-contact era. Also, Latin American physicians often trained in France, and the French school of medicine saw obstetrics as a major issue. Latin America's nascent feminist movement played a role in this as well by advocating that these issues be addressed at the ISB/PASB meetings held throughout the Americas.

It would not be until the ISB's fourth congress (in Costa Rica, 1909), that women's and children's health was even brought up. Costa Rican doctors decried the high mortality rates and abysmal conditions of their hospitals, and thus recommended that the obstetric practices of England be introduced throughout the Americas. Indeed, Latin American delegates asked that the issue of child mortality be addressed at every conference in the 1920s, but the issue was continuously ignored. It would not be until the 1940s that these important health issues would finally be brought to the fore.

Reference: Birn, Anne-Emanuelle. "'No More Surprising than a Broken Pitcher?' Maternal and Child Health in the Early Years of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau." In Canadian Bulletin of Medicine, vol. 19, no. 1 (2002), pp. 17-46.

CITATION: Faca exame pre-natal. United States National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Order #: A032067