Author’s note: This is the second post documenting my visit on behalf of Mom Bloggers for Social Good to see Save the Children’s work at the Indira Kalyan slum in Delhi, India. To read the first post click here.
India has made a tremendous amount of progress over the last two decades fighting to save the lives of mothers and children. A decade ago close to 75,000 women died during childbirth every year and this number has been reduced to 56,000 in 2010. Significant progress has also been made in newborn survival. Since 1990, India has reduced the rate of deaths of children under 5 by 46% or almost in half. Despite the major achievements, newborn and maternal dealths are still way too high given the tragic fact that many of these deaths are largely preventable. The situation is especially dire in India, the second most populous country in the world, with a hugely disproportionate percentage of maternal and newborn deaths.
- Nearly 1 in 5 deaths of children under age five are in India. (1.6 million children or 29% of the global total ).
- 19% of these deaths take place on the day a child is born and 53% occur within the first month of birth.
- Large scale inequities within India continue to persist today in terms of wealth disparities, rural-urban divide, education, age of mother, caste, which means that not all babies born in India have an equal change of survival.
One of the most effective ways to dramatically improve maternal and newborn health in India and around the developing world is by employing health workers on the front line who can reach the most vulnerable mothers and babies. Oftentimes, many of these women have to walk hours or sometimes even days to reach a doctor or even a clinic for care. In many places in the world, Frontline Health Care workers are the only medical care that millions of woman and children receive and are the most cost-effective and practical way to save lives.
In India, an integral part of Save the Children’s “Bringing Healthcare to the Doorstep” strategy involves working with Frontline Health Care Workers such as ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) and Aanganwari workers (AWW) in the most desperate places. Working in partnership with local NGOs and the government, Save the Children has made remarkable progress in helping save the lives of mothers and children.
As part of my trip to India with Jennifer James, founder of Mom Bloggers for Social Good, the next part of our visit with Save the Children was to meet with the women on the ground who were making a difference. After touring the Mobile Van Units (MVU) outside of the Indira Kalyan Camp, we walked inside the slum to a dusty courtyard where we got to meet face to face with the Frontline Health Care workers and learn more about the amazing work they are doing on the ground.
It was an unbearably hot day with highs nearing 120 degrees Fahrenheit, common for the end of May in Delhi, and we managed to find a large shady tree to assemble our meeting. Thankfully we had a translator along since the women did not speak much English. We gathered for a half hour listening to the women tell us about their lives and what a typical day was like on the job.
We spent some time speaking with Sharmila, an Aanganwari worker who has worked for 19 years in the community providing care for women and children. Sharmila’s life is not easy. She rises early and works a full day seeing hundreds of patients for six days a week. Yet you could tell by her warm, caring smile that she loved her job and understood how important she was to the mothers and children she sees.
The goal of the Frontline Health Care workers is to educate and visit as many pregnant women as possible to ensure they are receiving the proper prenatal care and strive for a hospital delivery of the baby. After the baby is born, the workers continue to visit the mother and newborn child to ensure they are thriving. These simple health care visits help mothers and babies survive.
After our meeting, it was time to visit a prenatal class being held within the camp. We thanked Sharmila and her friends for taking the time to meet with us and tried to head out to our next visit yet were stopped unexpectedly by smiling children who desperately wanted their picture taken. How could I resist their beautiful smiles?
The children inside the Indira Kalyan Camp were curious about their foreign visitors and were extremely playful in front of the camera. They all begged for their pictures to be taken and I could have spent the rest of the afternoon there capturing their photos on film. They were absolutely lovely and reminded me of why this work is so incredibly important.