Beh Charan (Rajasthan), May 4 (IANS) ‘Did your prasav (delivery) go off well this time?’ ‘Was the jaapa (birth) without any problems?’ These are questions that a male health worker poses to a group of attentive women in a Rajasthan village.
Tejkaran Ratanoo, an education coordinator associated with the SUMA-Rajasthan White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood project, addresses his questions unembarrassed to the women of Beh Charan, a village in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur district.
The women, their faces covered with colourful odhnis, or veils, answer without tittering. It’s a promising sign of how health initiatives are overcoming gender divides.
‘There is now more awareness among the people, and the women are eager to learn more about birth preparedness,’ Ratanoo told this visiting IANS correspondent.
Rajasthan has among the highest maternal mortality ratios in India at 335 per 100,000 live births.
The SUMA-Rajasthan White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood project is being implemented in 10 villages of Jodhpur district in partnership with White Ribbon Alliance India and GRAVIS (Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti).
There is Sharvan Lal, a health committee member in Khabda village. He is available round the clock in case any pregnant woman needs to be rushed to hospital.
Lal, whose wife Chhoti is the ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) or trained female community health worker of the village, attends health committee meetings regularly.
‘Once I got a call at 10 p.m. to take a pregnant lady from the village to the nearest hospital,’ Lal told IANS.
Lal had gone through a training programme under an NGO where he was told about steps to take in any emergency regarding a pregnancy.
‘I tell women to keep a list of important phone numbers on hand in case of an emergency, and also tell families not to have deliveries at home,’ Lal said.
Ratanoo goes for field visits to a few villages once a week and works in tandem with the ASHAs and Anganwadi workers.
‘Women are beginning to show some initiative. Now when the birth pain arises, the women say ‘Call the van’,’ Ratanoo said.
‘Families are being involved now in birth preparedness, from the saas (mother-in-law) and sasur (father-in-law) onwards. The men would earlier shy away from anything to do with birthing, maintaining that it is a sign of unmanliness to get involved. But they are beginning to participate,’ he added.
Chhoti, the wife of Sharvan Lal, who serves a delicious meal of bajra roti ladled with ghee and topped with gur, with dal and kadhi as accompaniment for a group of visiting journalists, goes to five homes daily as part of her work as ASHA of her village.
‘I tell the pregnant women to take iron tablets, eat properly and keep the phone numbers of the jeep drivers ready in case of emergency,’ Chhoti told IANS.
Then there is also Mirga, who claims she is 23 but doesn’t look older than 18. Her eldest born is Salim, a boy, and the youngest is Rayeesan, a year old girl. In between she has had a few miscarriages.
Thin and anaemic-looking Mirga, a resident of Khetasar village, lost her last baby in the sixth month of her pregnancy. She is now taking iron tablets and has been advised against pregnancy till her health improves.
Smita Bajpai, programme officer of Chetna, an NGO working among the people to raise awareness about safe motherhood, told Mirga not to go in for another baby till she is recovered.
‘Don’t go for another baby for some time…you are like a kachcha ghara (unbaked claypot), which will collapse any time.’
Bajpai told IANS that initially they had to contend with a lot of hostility from family elders when they broached topics related to pregnancy. ‘The in-laws would tear up our posters and other material we would bring to educate women, and tell us to go away. It took us some persistence to break through,’ she said.
Aparajita Gogoi, country director CEDPA (the Centre for Development and Population Activities), which helped form the White Ribbon Alliance India, said they are planning to take the learning from the pilot programme to other places too.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)