Public health requires a proactive approach, focusing as it does on ensuring the mother and child’s health and prevention of infection and disease. The World Health Organisation estimates that 22 per cent of global maternal deaths occur in India, where millions of women suffer pregnancy-related morbidity. Let me share some more information on this subject.
Every 12 minutes a woman dies in child birth; three lakh children die as soon as they are born; 1.2 million children die before their first birthday. Infant mortality is a big issue. A large number of births happen by C-section. Even if women undergo periodic antenatal check-up, about 14–15 per cent of them will need caesarean section. That means 5.2 million C-section operations a year, for which we need two lakh gynaecologists. We have only 50,000. Most, if not all of them, live in small to big towns and cities but 60 per cent of new births happen in rural India. The practice of midwifery which used to be quite common some decades ago is now virtually extinct.
In this field of Maternal and Child Health, I would like to cite the example of the wonderful, inseparable and inspiring couple Dr Abhay Bang and Dr Rani Bang. This couple has selflessly dedicated itself to the health, social and educational improvement of the tribal people of the Gadchiroli district in North-Eastern Maharashtra, one of the most backward districts in that State, where they found 92 per cent of tribal women had gynaecological disorders, a good part STD related. They also discovered pneumonia was a major child killer in 58 villages in Gadchiroli district. Determining that the major problems affecting mothers and children in India are malnutrition, infection and unregulated fertility, they went about improving the quality of care that mothers receive during pregnancy and childbirth knowing this to be one of the most effective ways to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality.
Dr Abhay Bang devised a novel Home-Based Neonatal Care (HBNC) programme to save newborns at remote places. A married woman in the village is given rigorous training in examining pregnant women, diagnosing their health, possible need for expert supervision and distribution of basic medicines to both the mother and the newborn child. This woman named Arogyadoot (wellness ambassador) is also trained to give injections to the newborn. HBNC has been extremely successful in the villages in Gadchiroli where the maternal and infant mortality rates have reduced significantly as a result of Dr Bang’s interventions.
We are all inspired by Dr Bang’s success story and it is time for us to create awareness on Home-Based Neonatal Care in our communities around. Maybe a small push in the right direction will lead to saving the lives of thousands of mothers and newly born babies. Be the inspiration and connect people for a healthy world.
Director, Rotary International