By: Lindsay Menard-Freeman, Women Deliver
If you brave the helter-skelter road out of the capital city of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh—where rickshaws, motorcycles, and oversize trucks compete with cows for two narrow lanes—then turn onto the dirt road between the rice fields, you will find something remarkable in the quiet village of Devpuri. Despite India’s dire maternal and newborn health record (each year, 78,000 women die giving birth and a million babies don’t survive their first month), mothers and newborns are surviving.
PATH, with the help of several committed community members, is helping to ensure that mothers and babies in rural villages and urban slums are now safer.
PATH’s Sure Start project introduces the people of two small, rural villages, Devpuri and Ithar, who turned simple objects—piggy banks, childhood games, personal letters—into tools that get new families off to a healthy start. In addition to Devpuri and Ithar, 5,519 other rural villages and nearly 700 urban slums are turning the odds in their favor.
Uttar Pradesh and Mahrashtra are the two most populous states of India. PATH’s Sure Start project reached 24.5 million poor people with lifesaving information and support—an accomplishment equivalent to reaching everyone living in the metropolitan areas of New York City and Washington, DC, combined. By partnering with hundreds of government and local groups and thousands of health workers and volunteers, they tapped the power inherent in communities: the power to save their own lives.
This website introduces a few of the people who stepped up to make a difference. They turned simple tools—piggy banks, games, personal letters—into compelling ways to get new families off to a healthy start. And the results show that these people and approaches are making a big difference. Over the course of three years, we saw a substantial increase in the use of safe practices for pregnancy and infant care.
For instance, in Uttar Pradesh:
- More than twice as many women are giving birth in health facilities, from 24 percent when the project started to 57 percent today;
- Nearly double the number of pregnant women receive prenatal care, from 13 percent to 25 percent;
- And more than twice as many women are breastfeeding their babies exclusively in the first week after birth, from 21 percent to 52 percent.
These changes and more add up to fewer complications in pregnancy and delivery, fewer deaths, and healthier babies. In fact, in some villages like Devpuri, there was not a single newborn or maternal death in the four years after the project was launched.
Now, in quiet villages like Devpuri as well as bustling urban slums in Maharashtra, more babies are living to see their first birthdays, and more mothers are experiencing the joy of watching their children grow. And the project left behind a cadre of champions—families, health workers, village leaders, and government support systems—with the information and tools they need to keep this happier story going. The success of the Sure Start project illustrates the potential that simple, community-driven approaches can have in India—and the world.
Visit Sure Start’s new website, launched just in time for Mother’s Day. And throughout May, PATH is spreading the word about maternal and newborn health through social media, and you can help. Find them on Twitter and Facebook.
Flickr photo via the DFID-UK Department for International Development