Ethnographic and epidemiologic approaches for the programming of prenatal and birth services in Mesa los Hornos, Mexico

Richard Andre Danko, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The investigator conducted an action-oriented investigation of pregnancy and birth among the women of Mesa los Hornos, an urban squatter slum in Mexico City. Three aims guided the project: (1) To obtain information for improving prenatal and maternity service utilization; (2) To examine the utility of rapid ethnographic and epidemiologic assessment methodologies; (3) To cultivate community involvement in health development. Viewing service utilization as a culturally-bound decision, the study included a qualitative phase to explore women's cognition of pregnancy and birth, their perceived needs during pregnancy, and their criteria of service acceptability. A probability-based community survey delineated parameters of service utilization and pregnancy health events, and probed reasons for decisions to use medical services, lay midwives, or other sources of prenatal and labor and delivery assistance. Qualitative survey of service providers at relevant clinics, hospitals, and practices contributed information on service availability and access, and on coordination among private, social security, and public assistance health service sectors. The ethnographic approach to exploring the rationale for use or non-use of services provided a necessary complement to conventional barrier-based assessment, to inform planning of culturally appropriate interventions. Information collection and interpretation was conducted under the aegis of an advisory committee of community residents and service agency representatives; the residents' committee formulated recommendations for action based on findings, and forwarded the mandate to governmental social and urban development offices. Recommendations were designed to inform and develop community participation in health care decision-making. Rapid research methods are powerful tools for achieving community-based empowerment toward investigation and resolution of local health problems. But while ethnography works well in synergy with quantitative assessment approaches to strengthen the validity and richness of short-term field work, the author strongly urges caution in application of Rapid Ethnographic Assessments. An ethnographic sensibility is essential to the research enterprise for the development of an active and cooperative community base, the design and use of quantitative instruments, the appropriate use of qualitative techniques, and the interpretation of culturally-oriented information. However, prescribed and standardized Rapid Ethnographic Assessment techniques are counter-productive if used as research short-cuts before locale- and subject-specific cultural understanding is achieved.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

Danko, Richard Andre, "Ethnographic and epidemiologic approaches for the programming of prenatal and birth services in Mesa los Hornos, Mexico" (1991). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9130692.