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High Maternal Mortality
In The Heart Of India

By Anil Gulati

21 December,2006
Countercurrents.org

Munna was nine months pregnant. She did experience pains few days back, when her husband and mother-in-law rushed her to the nearest primary health centre in Kushwai of the District Shahdol in the State of Madhya Pradesh in India. They had to make her travel by bus from their village, and then in pain Munna had to walk, which she could barely to reach the health centre.

But unfortunately the kushwai health centre, where they had come with lot of hopes, did not had a medical doctor for last one and half years. One male health worker mans the centre. Though, he puts in his best but that may not be enough for women like Munna and others who need medical support.

Inspite of reaching the primary health centre, she did not get any help. She has to travel another eight kilometers to Burhar, the place where there is a community health centre. The centre is fortunately newly built and has facilities for delivery. Munna did develop some complications during the delivery but fortunately survived to see her new born.

She was lucky but thousands of women which die in the state are not. App 10,000 women die every year in Madhya Pradesh during pregnancy or within 42 days after pregnancy. Majority of these could be prevented. Medically these deaths may be due to hemorrhage, infection, eclampsia or unsafe abortion or any of three delays. But fact is there exists a yawning gap in our health system which stands in between life and death of women in the state. This gap has linkage to availability and access to health services, infrastructure, awareness among communities of not only the services but even recognizing danger signs, issue of how where they can access the services etc. Studies also tells us that for every maternal death in India, 20 more women suffer from the impaired health.

But if the situation at ground is like this, and has been there. What is the state’s response to an issue like this? Does it impact the political leaders, their discourse? Does issue of women dying in the state is debated in discussions where funds are allocated or decisions are made? Does state’s machinery care for it? Does civil society raise its concern?

The year 2004

To answer some of these questions a dip stick assessment was done in year 2004 at various levels within civil society, debates in the state assembly, media analysis. Outcomes were revealing. First of all the issue concerned only few in health department. There were only handful of civil society partners, and their major role was to support service delivery system. As such there was no push or urgency to bring change. Interestingly, the issue had never being debated on the floor of the state assembly, a place where elected representatives ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ decide. It did not impact them, many of them were not even aware of the fact that state has this high number of maternal deaths? An issue like this was never raised by the political leaders in the debates which happen there – an issue of total neglect at the highest political body. Media covered ‘event news’ around the safe motherhood day, probably they never got the right information too.

Present

That was a starting point, but nevertheless situation has changed today. Today state recognizes it as a major issue when it comes to women and children. State calls for an action. It is on high priority list of the political head of the state, state party is being questioned on the number of deaths, gaps on the infrastructure and many related points. Today more than 150 civil society organizations are raising concern on the issue and demanding urgency and urgency of action in the state.

How it happened and what does it impact and what strengths does it generate? Movements don't just happen; the energy that underlies them must be marshaled, channeled, and focused. The principal means by which this is achieved in our society, and within our political tradition, is through advocacy networks and coalitions.

Networks like Madhya Pradesh Voluntary Health Association, Madhya Pradesh Jan Adhikar Manch and Collective for advocacy, resource and training, Madhya Pradesh Samaj Sewa Sanstha, Mahila Chetna Manch, and many others have not only contributed to help bring the issue at an individual level but as a part of informal collation added to that force which helped bringing the agenda on political normative framework. Some of the strengths which this informal network helped bring were the numbers of civil society partners raising concern on the issue spread across different regions of the state. From a handful few now it is more than 150 civil society partners in the state working in all divisions to bring the issue to forefront. The turn around is also in their way of working from being a service delivery partners or a social mobilization partners in supportive and submissive role in a new avatar of advocacy partner. In this new role civil society speaks on the issue of right to health, its violation, demands state’s accountability to provide for safemotherhood. In this new business influencing people who make decisions which impact human lives is the key.

The primary target of the civil society was to bring the issues which impact lives of women at the villages, blocks and districts to the agenda of the people who make or influence decisions, i.e. state assembly debates, political leaders, members of legislative assembly, ministers, media, rights commission etc. They had been to some part successful. ex-pression of this concern was undertaken by directly meeting and sensitizing political leaders. The evidences highlighting gap were shared with political leaders, urging them to rise above politics and give a strong call for action. These non governmental organizations wrote memorandums, shared information and collected evidences for the same purpose. Media engagement also supported by providing an enabling environment for change. Strong evidences i.e. case of maternal deaths which can be presented, health system gaps were highlighted which added pressure on the state and the leaders to react. Resultant of this solid gains achieved. Today questions on maternal mortality are being raised in the state assembly, the highest policy making body of the state. It is not just few many voices are being publicly heard on the issue. There is a increased concern within media.

From nowhere it came to a point where state publicly acknowledge the problem, and its commitment to act. Many new polices and schemes have been announced and that too in the rapid succession. This amount of concern and even expressed publicly by leaders had never been seen earlier in the state on the issue of maternal mortality. But that is not enough today empowered civil society and media is always looking with eagle’s eye on the new measures of the state and vocally points out the gaps This is a positive sign, where people are voicing their opinion. But it is not easy as said. Political leaders have started picking up real cases of deaths, gaps in infrastructure in the state, violation of rights, gaps in policies and seeking answers to what is being done by the state to response to the situation.

Advocacy experts tell us that ‘people centered advocacy’ is the best, i.e. position when people who suffer can speak for themselves. A step has been taken in the same direction by the engaged networks. Madhya Pradesh Jan Adhikar Manch in their work with communities helped to bring the issue to debate in various gram sabhas which were held by panchayats in Gwalior – Chambal division. Similarly women who had participated in various women conventions hosted by Madhya Pradesh Samaj Sewa Sanstha came forward and wrote about the problems women face in rural areas when it comes to issue of safemotherhood and why do women die in their villages while giving birth. As per sources of Madhya Pradesh Samaj Sewa Sanstha more than 200 women have written to the Chief Minister. On a simple fifty paise post card, they wrote by theselves and it was send to the Chief Minister. It looks simple but powerful, if it gets to his eyes. Recently a large number of women from villages across Madhya Pradesh have joined a signature (or thumb-impression) campaign to press for their right to health and to call upon the Government to ensure that the dream of safe motherhood becomes a reality. As a part of a special drive to raise concern on this crucial issue, more than 20,000 women from different villages of the State are now in the process of signing (or placing their thumb impression) on a various banners demanding the right to health and calling upon the State to ensure that the dream of safe motherhood becomes a reality. Madhya Pradesh Voluntary Health Association, Madhya Pradesh Samaj Sewa Sanstha are the civil society partners who are collecting these signatures/thumb impressions of women. They say that they do so after they are adequately sensitizing them on the issue of maternal mortality. Then if they feel that some concrete action is needed to improve the situation, they come and sign. Plan is to present the banners with their signatures to policy makers.

One might say that this is good effort, which indeed it is to bring the agenda of maternal mortality on to the political and action framework but it is still a long way to go. This is true. But if one looks back one and half years where there was hardly any concern, hardly anyone called for action, except few that too ‘within the box’. The focus was limited. From nowhere it has come somewhere, which is an important achievement by any means. Need of the day is to provide possible answers to the state, which is willing to listen. Answers which can help deliver results, within the context of the field realties and socio – cultural aspects – a new call to many !

Contact

Anil Gulati
E mail – anilgulati5@gmail.com



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