Women Helping Women

Sumitra Pangi and her baby Bujjir are part of a larger group of mothers and babies who attend a community meeting organized by AIF’s partner Srujuna. Sumitra, barely 20 years old, belongs to a tribal group that survive on forest produce and jhum (shifting) cultivation. She is mother to three children, the youngest being three months old. “I did not have any pre-natal checks for my first two deliveries,” she says. But during her third pregnancy, the government-accredited community health worker, called ASHA, ensured that Sumitra received her pre-natal check-ups and medical attention on delivery. Rajamma Pangi, the ASHA, has been working in these villages for the last ten years. While taking a smear test for malaria to which the area is prone in the rains, Rajamma says, “Being able to attend to people in my village makes me feel good. I’m looking forward to receiving trainings under the MANSI program, these will enable me to understand and attend to cases smoothly and ensure they get the right medical attention in a timely manner”.

Since 2009, AIF has been working to reduce maternal and child mortality in rural, impoverished areas in Jharkhand through the Maternal and Newborn Survival Initiative (MANSI), an innovative public-private partnership model for community health. Providing basic medical knowledge and training to local community health workers, the program creates a safety net of trusted community figures for mothers who live far from hospitals and need medical attention. The training in turn empowers local women to care for their community in home-based maternal and neonatal care, ensuring proper and regular medical attention during pregnancy and postnatal care. In the highly successful 5-year pilot phase, MANSI demonstrated significant declines in the under-5 mortality rate, the neonatal mortality rate and the infant mortality rate in the project area by 44%, 46% and 39% respectively.

As part of its scaleup plans, MANSI has entered the region of Vishakapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh. This region is comprised of hill tribes who survive on forest produce. Many villages are not accessible. Weekly shandies (farmers markets) are the place where locals not only trade their produce, but also exchange information on their welfare. 90% of the population belong to tribal communities. The infant mortality rate is 27% higher and the under-5 mortality rate is 61% more in tribal areas as compared with non-tribal areas. It is a high endemic malaria zone. Starting with direct intervention in the villages, the project is designed to build local capacities for communities to care for their mothers and children and ensure a successful startto life.

Drew Foxman

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