Women Helping Women

Mansa Devi of Himrol village in Uttarakhand is eight months pregnant. She is attended to by Usha Rana, who has ensured that Mansa receives timely antenatal tetanus shots and takes her iron supplements regularly.
Usha Rana is an accredited social health activist (ASHA). As a community health worker, she represents a health workforce that holds within its hands the ability to improve the health and well-being of mothers, babies and families across the country.

Beaming with happiness, Mansa says, “One thing I have learnt from Usha Didi is to have a balanced diet. This time, I am feeling better. We have registered ourselves at the health centre and will go there for my delivery.” Mansa’s mother-in-law is a Dai (village midwife) and had assisted Mansa in the delivery of her first two children, both of which were difficult. But after regular home visits by community health worker Usha Didi, Mansa is convinced that an institutional delivery is the safest way to have her third child.

Home to more than ten million people, the state of Uttarakhand faces significant maternal and newborn healthcare challenges. Its remote landscape creates a major challenge to access for emergency care in rural areas of Uttarakhand. The majority of families living in this mountainous area are far away from the nearest primary health center and even farther away from the community health center. Long distances and poor road conditions make it difficult for villagers to travel to health centers, thereby limiting their access to care.

AIF’s Maternal and Newborn Survival Initiative (MANSI) is saving the lives of mothers and babies in remote areas of India. Empirical evidence demonstrates that a set of low-cost essential interventions can prevent the majority of maternal and newborn deaths, from routine antenatal care (ANC) and clean delivery to exclusive breastfeeding. MANSI successfully delivers this through a public-private partnership model that is focused on the training and capacity building of ASHAs.

“Every morning, what pulls me back to work, is the woman who is pregnant. I want to help her bring a new life into this world and put a healthy baby into her arms,” says Usha Didi, as she gets ready for the day. She begins her day by visiting pregnant and new mothers in the village to conduct check-ups. She then convenes a community meeting, to engage and educate women, men and village elders on the importance of safe pregnancies and deliveries. ASHA workers are part of a larger change occurring in India to improve maternal and newborn health. In many parts of India, Usha and community health workers like her, are often the first and only link that women and children have to basic health- care. MANSI is leading a determined effort to train and support thousands of Usha Didis to catapult India’s healthcare agenda to success.

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