|Photo (c) Children In Need India|
Woman in publishing, at literary festival: “What do you do?”
Me: “At the moment I’m working with the Gates Foundation and
, reporting on international development? No, before you ask, I haven’t met the Gates’s. The next thing I’m doing is on maternal health, I think. It’s really interesting.” Johns Hopkins University
Woman in publishing: “Oh! That’s so interesting because the other day I was thinking to myself, I had trouble with my two pregnancies and if I’d been having my babies in the developing world, I wouldn’t have survived. Do you know [random British Asian woman in publishing PR]? Because you look like her and you remind me of her.”
- Infant mortality is highest in
Indiathan anywhere else in the world. According to Unicef’s 2010 figures, the majority of the 6,000 children who die in Indiaevery day, the majority are from preventable causes.
- Almost a half of all children under the age of five in
Indiaare clinically malnourished (Unicef study, January 2012)
- According to Unicef’s 2005 figures women in India are 80 times more likely to die during childbirth than in the UK due to lack of access to basic healthcare and monitoring during pregnancy for poorer women, as well as malnutrition and anaemia, which are linked.
This month the Wilson Centre in America held an extremely wide-ranging conference on Maternal Health in India: Emerging Priorities. There is a brilliant sum-up and full footage of the conference here. Taking place across New Delhi, Boston and Washington, the speakers argued strongly for the issue of maternal health to be seen in the context of multiple underlying social, health and economic factors, pointing out the importance of various key factors. First, more attention must be paid to women's health after giving birth - focusing on morbidity, not just mortality - and ensuring that all of a woman's health needs, from family planning to sexual health, are met in the same (geographical) place by the same people or organisation. Second, there must be an understanding of he importance of family planning: fewer pregnancies, with longer gaps in between, are better for women's physical and mental health and the health of their babies. And third, the importance of post-partum health care and sustained treatment cannot be underestimated.
Underlying all of this are the effects of gender inequality on women's health: early marriages leading to early and numerous births; violence against women; the underprivileging of female family members when it comes to feeding/serving, leaving women with the worst and least food (leading to malnutrition and anaemia) and the most and hardest labour within the house and beyond it. Class is also a powerful influence on Indian women's access to healthcare: disenfranchisement due to caste or other low class status is serious and widespread.
When it comes to healthcare, the best work is done through direct outreach, local engagement and the creation of long term relationships and structures: in one film, CINI describes visiting people door to door, inviting local people to meetings, the setting up of ‘panchayat’ council meeting where citizens speak up about what they need and are also educated and informed of their rights. In this way, the fundamentals – health, education, nutrition – are slowly strengthened. One intriguing project, which kills two birds with one stone (so to speak… actually it gives life to two birds with one stone…) is the ‘Nutrimix’ nutritional project: this is a pre-mixed nutritional food supplement which benefits Under-5s, which is sold by women to their local communities at a low price, but with a small profit. It incentivises the women to sell and benefits them financially, while also aiding child health.
Bidisha is a 2013 Fellow for the International Reporting Project. She is reporting on issues of global health and development.