A short excerpt from Materna lAnd Perinatal Death Inquiry AND Response, my report for UNICEF
Connecting the unconnected
Gurpana is one among the 125,000 villages in the country without electricity. A remote village in the tribal-dominated Bundwan block of Purulia, it is also without a telephone service. The block Primary Health Centre (PHC) is 30 km away. Six months ago, there was not even a tarred road linking Gurpana to any health facility. During an emergency, villagers would request the staff in the local police post for
the use of their jeep. From time to time, sporadic bursts of extremist violence in surrounding areas shatter the calm of Gurpana. Steeped in acute poverty, amidst all its hardships and limitations, Purulia is poised to undergo a change that has significant potential to save maternal and child lives.A newly constructed warehouse in the village is doubling up as a community centre. On a hot, summer
afternoon, pregnant women, young mothers carrying small children, grandmothers and a few fathers have gathered to watch a video film on maternal mortality on a battery-operated television. Many in the crowd cannot read or write but are mesmerised by the film, which talks about events that happen around them, places they have heard of, and situations they can identify with. The show is preceded and followed by a discussion initiated by field workers from KALYAN, a local NGO partnering with the district administration
and UNICEF. The focus here is to sensitise communities, that are often un-reached by the regular healthcare system, about safe motherhood and newborn care.
“This is a village that has almost fallen off the map. Here, women do not know about new government schemes or the benefits they are entitled to… During our interactions, we stress the importance of institutional delivery,” says Sanjib Saha, UNICEF field operative in Purulia. “We make them aware of the warning signals for women who may be at high risk during pregnancy and delivery and the guidelines for referral transport to which they are entitled under the National Rural Health Mission.” Alongside, an NGO representative draws the attention of the crowd to the critical role of “three delays” in maternal deaths and the necessary measures to avert them. Gurpana is not an isolated instance. Today, such awareness drives are being conducted at mothers’ meetings, community events, and other special occasions as part of the MAPEDIR process in 20 blocks in the district. “With greater awareness, we hope they would heed the danger signals and also work out community mechanisms to rush a woman in an obstetric emergency to the hospital,” adds Saha on a
strong optimistic note.