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A Mother Dies Every 2 Minutes: India’s Maternal Mortality Rate Speaks Of Our Failures

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By Aishik Purkait:

As per a 2015 report by the United Nations Population Fund, around 830 mothers die every day due to childbirth or pregnancy causes which is about 2 deaths per minute.

Our long strive for “acche din” is still unsettled for when we essentially fail to realise what we should do for mothers out there fighting against all odds just to ensure that her unborn child sees the light of the day.

“During the last 20 years or so, India has grown much richer than Bangladesh. But during the same period, Bangladesh has overtaken India in terms of a wide range of basic social indicators,” Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and fellow economist Jean Drèze argued in their new book “An Uncertain Glory”.

Even after almost seven decades of independence in a time when India is considered to be the next big superpower in the world ecomony along with a colossal military power, we have essentially failed to ensure the basic right of every would-be mother i.e., to deliver her child with minimum complications.

Even though the Indian government has launched programs like the Janani Suraksha Yojana (Mothers Protection Initiative), which gives free transportation for pregnant women, ensures blood transfusion, provides medicines and other necessities and also pays close to INR 2000 if the delivery is carried out in a government hospital. The programs, however have failed to reach the grassroot level, making India the country with the highest number of maternal deaths. We have lacked in family planning, better health facilities, providing conditions good enough for a mother to deliver her child. This has made India a high-risk zone for delivering one’s child. Countries such as Nigeria have a lower maternal mortality rate. According to a UNICEF report, India forms around 20% of the total maternal deaths in the world. This is coupled with a maternal mortality ratio of 174 per 100000 births, 45000 maternal deaths , 280 AIDS-related indirect maternal deaths and 25, 794 live birth cases in 2015, as reported by the World Health Organisation.

What we need is better community programs to educate the people, especially for the rural mass, which forms around 67% of the population and implement programs which can reach out to people and help them.

Such programs are being carried out by several non-profit organisations, Child In Need Institute (CINI) being one of them. “CINI’s approach is to bring all the stakeholders’ together. We create a linkage between the government service providers and the pregnant mothers both during antenatal care (ANC) and postnatal care (PNC) periods. One aspect of our work is to strengthen and support the government facilities available for the pregnant mother. We also work together with the ‘Rogi Kalyan Samity’, by helping them make plans to improve the conditions of the government health facilities” said Ranjan Panda, the Deputy Director of Planning and Programme of CINI.

“As CINI is also the state secretariat for the White Ribbon Alliance India (WRAI), we network with NGOs and advocate the causes of better quality of care and better service delivery both at the grass root level and at the policy level.”

Even though the government has a dedicated fund for the cause, implementing those funds during crucial times has been the biggest dispute. On asked as to what the central and the state governments should do to help the cause, Mr Panda replied, “Both the central and the state government should better the implementation of their existing programmes by bringing all stakeholders together for the cause. Also they should ensure an accountability framework to be in place to respond to the need’.”

Organisations like these have, for the past several decades, worked to provide secure conditions to the pregnant mothers to deliver their child.

Ranjan then went on to talk about a special case they had handled, “A 22-year-old mother who got pregnant for the first time, had a very difficult pregnancy. She was suffering from high fever, headache, nausea and vomiting throughout the entire gestation period. Another problem was that since she belonged to a migration population, there was a high chance that she would not live in Kolkata. This meant that her care would not be proper. We continuously motivated and counselled her family to stay in Kolkata. We also made a lot of efforts to convince her to have an institution delivery. Her family agreed and she delivered a healthy baby.”

It is up to us to ensure that thousands of those unborn babies see the light of the day and do not become the part of a statistic we would not wish to see.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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