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Panama - Birth

Many expats prefer to have a hospital birth in Panama as the facilities and level of care is excellent and in urban areas, home births are rare. Even those who opt for private care will find that the cost is not as much as they would have to pay for private medical treatment in other countries. Many hospitals can give you the option of private rooms and extended stays in hospital of more than a few days are not a problem for those who need them.

If you are in Panama and discover that you are having a baby the first step is to see your doctor who can refer you to the relevant specialists and department of your chosen hospital, or you can simply go to the hospital. It is worth asking around for a recommended OB-GYN and you will find that you have the same medical team on hand throughout your pregnancy and birth. Pain relief during childbirth is as it is in many other countries, with epidurals available, gas and air and other forms of pain relief.

Hospitals that have maternity wards include the Hospital Santo Tomas in Panama City, one of the largest in the country. It is a public hospital and dates back several hundred years. The National Hospital is a private hospital that specializes in maternity and care of newborns. There are also specialist maternity hospitals in cities such as David and Colon. If you are in a more rural area it may be worth staying in the city as the time for the birth gets closer, so that you can be sure of the best care. All the hospitals are staffed with fully qualified and experienced professionals, many of whom have studied in the UK or in the US. In most of the larger hospitals it is very common to have English-speaking staff, particularly the doctors. In smaller institutions the nurses and other technicians are not as likely to be fluent in English.

It has been calculated that in Panama 94% of all birth occur with some form of medical aid now, which is a marked improvement on birth figures in the past. The remaining 6% of those that give birth without medical assistance are mainly in rural areas. There are moves to improve the facilities in rural areas in all aspects of medical care, not just for maternity and neo-natal care.

All births need to be registered at the Civil Registry in Panama. In order to obtain a birth certificate for the new baby, the parents need to provide photocopies of their ‘cedula’ (ID cards) and the birth can be registered by one of the parents or a grandparent. If parents wish, they can carry out the registration through a lawyer who has power of attorney to do so. Registration of a new child is not a long process though, so it is easier and more cost effective to do it yourself.

Birth rates are high in Panama, but abortions are illegal unless the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother or is the result of incest or rape. The government has carried out several polls on the subject of abortion and the last one showed that nearly 90% of Panamanians were against it, but the government also carries out regular campaigns on the subject of how wrong abortion is. Around 80% of the population is Roman Catholic which could also have a bearing on this figure.

Any woman who opts for an illegal abortion could spend up to 3 years in prison. Any doctor who carries out such a procedure could spend up to 6 years in prison and even more if an abortion is carried out without the consent of the pregnant woman. The sentence could be up to 10 years in prison if a patient dies during the procedure. Penalties are even higher for a man who carries out an abortion on his own wife. When an abortion is permitted it may only be carried out one of a few specially selected government-run hospitals.

In order to prevent a rise in unwanted pregnancies there are big campaigns to promote family planning and birth control, particularly among the young and in rural areas.

Useful Resources

Direccion General de Registro Civil (Civil Registry)
Tribunal Electoral - Registro Civil
Apartado 5281
Panama 5
Tel: (507) 207 8053

Read more about this country

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