It was a Saturday when Puja reported severe labor pains. She was ready to give birth. Puja was on the verge of delivering her second child in a rural village in India, when her family stepped in. Unfortunately for Puja and her unborn child, giving birth on a Saturday was bad luck. Puja’s family feared that the evil goddess, Shanee, would enter the child.
Luckily, Shashi, as a community health worker from Global Fund grantee partner, Action India, spoke with the family and convinced them to take Puja to the hospital immediately.
Part of Shashi’s job with Action India is to work with families to change superstitious attitudes around childbirth that can be prevalent in rural areas. She also makes regular home visits where she encourages women who choose to deliver at home to register at the nearest health center so they can access hospital services in case of an emergency.
Puja’s story is not unique. The risk of maternal death in India is one in 37, according to Action India’s research. While 16 percent of the world’ population is in India, one-fifth of the world’s maternal deaths occur there – the highest figure for a single country.
In the words of Action India, “Maternal mortality is not just about women dying at child birth, it is an indicator of the value placed on the life and well being of a woman by our society.”
In light of these shocking statistics, the Indian government aims to reduce its maternal mortality rate by 75 percent by 2015. Action India is concerned that the government will direct its focus and resources towards hospitalized birth. Yet, hospitalized births account for only 34 percent of all deliveries in India.
To address this gap, Action India, with support from Johnson and Johnson, in partnership with Global Fund, organized almost 200 meetings across 16 villages to motivate and oversee proper functioning of health centers and pre and postnatal care services.
These meetings brought mothers together to exchange information about safe birthing. Pregnant mothers were informed of the importance of routine immunizations and check-ups, along with the benefits of nutrition and a healthy diet.
Action India tracked 454 pregnant women who attended meetings. Out of the 454 delivers, only three infants and one mother died.
“We are writing our own history,” said an Action India community health worker. “We are just ordinary women. We began by learning about our own bodies then we taught other women. Together we learn that we have the right to control our own bodies.”