Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fragile Lives

FRONTLINE- Volume 24 - Issue 5 :: Mar. 10-23, 2007


The fundamental causes leading to high maternal mortality are yet to be addressed.
Mamta Bahelia, A tribal woman in Pathadeori village of Madhya Pradesh's Seoni district. Weighing 52 kg into the eighth month of her pregnancy, she continues to do laborious work.
ACCORDING to the Sample Registration Survey for 2001-03, around 78,050 pregnant women die in India every year. For every hundred thousand live births, there are 301 maternal deaths, the survey says. According to the White Ribbon Alliance of India (WRAI), a nationwide initiative that promotes safe motherhood, there has been no significant decline in India's maternal mortality rate (MMR) since the 1990s. Surveys of the causes of the high MMR show how inaccessible timely medical attention still is to many pregnant women. An inadequate health care system, lack of awareness, bad roads and, of course, poverty are some of the major factors that come in the way of safe deliveries for pregnant women. Surveys have also found that the maximum number of maternal deaths is recorded among the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
Bimla of Duhiya village in Murar block of Madhya Pradesh's Gwalior district is an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA). Madhya Pradesh is one of the 18 Empowered Action Group States covered under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM); it is one of the "low-performing" States in terms of institutional deliveries, along with Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Orissa and Jammu and Kashmir. As an ASHA, Bimla gets Rs.600 for every pregnant woman she is able to take to a government hospital for delivery. Indeed, all she can remember of her "training" is that she, and others like her, were told that they would be paid if they took pregnant women to hospital.

But Bimla could not save the life of her own sister-in-law, Khiloni. The family says she died because there was no trained "birth attendant" in the village and the government hospital where they took her would not accept the case because it was complicated. Bimla's is a family of landless farm hands. Duhiya is a village of mainly Jatavs, though there are a few landed, upper-caste families too. Only a kutccha road links Duhiya to Gwalior city. Bimla does not seem fully aware of the provisions of the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), operational since April 12, 2005, under which pregnant women get Rs.1,400 if they give birth in a government hospital and are also compensated if they give birth at home or in accredited private hospitals. Only two of the 25 women she took to a government hospital for delivery got paid under the JSY. Her own payment is often not on time and she is not paid for conveyance any way. She is supposed to serve a `population area' of 1,000, but she serves two panchayat areas with a total population of 2,000. Sometimes, she says, Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) refuse even to "touch" pregnant women of lower castes, let alone attending to their needs. Vinita Kalra, an auxiliary nurse midwife, has been working for eight years in Mamodhan village of Rajasthan's Dholpur district. In this photograph, making a home visit for an antenatal check-up.

According to an activist from a rights organisation in Murar, there have been several cases in Duhiya where pregnant women were turned away from the government hospital and forced to spend small fortunes on treatment at private hospitals. "This also means that the ASHA does not get paid," she said. In an area where maternal mortality obviously needs more attention than it gets, priorities sometimes seem strangely misplaced. The medical officer in charge of the primary health centre (PHC) in Hastinapur town of Murar block, for instance, could only think of the missing boundary wall at his PHC when asked what problems he faced at work. The centre he runs has no blood bank or ambulance services, no female doctors, and its nurses are not trained in Emergency Obstetric Care Services (EmOC). It has a proper building but is understaffed. Local people say there is no one at the centre after evening though it has been converted into a 24-hour First Referral Unit under the NRHM. He denied that there had been any cases of maternal mortality at his PHC. But he added that the families of pregnant women were usually to blame for pregnancy-related deaths because they did not organise timely medical attention. By the time a pregnant woman was taken to a doctor, he said, it was usually too late. He also said that anaemia was a major cause of maternal mortality. At least on this last point, the National Family Health Survey III would agree with him. The survey data, released recently, show that nearly 82.6 per cent of the children in the age group of six to 35 months are anaemic; 40.1 per cent of women have a body mass index (BMI) below normal; 57.9 per cent of pregnant women and 57.6 per cent of women who were ever married are anaemic.

The Economic Survey (2005-06) says the NRHM is the chief vehicle for making good the promises made on health care in the National Common Minimum Programme. Commenting on the implementation of the NRHM so far, WRAI spokesperson Aparajita Gogoi said there was no arrangement for training midwives under the Mission. Most ANMs are at present involved with family planning and health care for children. Skilled assistance at childbirth is not easily available. Much of what happens in communities and in the hospitals goes unreported and there is little accountability for maternal deaths. Doctors are often not trained in emergency obstetric care services and nurses and midwives are not encouraged to carry out life-saving procedures. Gogoi also said that panchayats were entitled to Rs.5,000 from the Health Department for emergency obstetric care services, but most of them were not aware of it and did not use the money.

Lack of nutrition is also a problem. The Integrated Child Development Services centre at Duhiya functions from the home of an Anganwadi worker. The only diet supplement that children and pregnant and lactating mothers receive here is soya puffs.

EVEN A BASIC labour room like this one is not something women have easy access to in rural India. The government now offers cash incentives to encourage women to go to hospitals for delivery. The story is the same everywhere. Banjara Ka Pura, also in Murar, is a village dominated by Banjaras, a Scheduled Tribe. All families in the village are landless and daily wages do not exceed Rs.40. The entire village should have been categorised as Below Poverty Line, yet few residents hold BPL cards. Even the grain allotted for the BPL category is not sold at BPL prices. There are young widows and old destitute women in the village who are not covered under the Antyodaya scheme for foodgrain entitlement. Expenditure on health leads to bondage in the village.

One woman, Lakshmi, narrated how her pregnant daughter-in-law died of haemorrhage after a miscarriage because she did not get timely treatment. "We used to take her in a bullock cart every day to the PHC. But the centre refused to admit her. We spent Rs.800 on a jeep to bring her body back," she said. She added that the entire family now worked as bonded labourers for the local temple priest, who had lent them Rs.35,000. Lakshmi's second daughter-in-law was luckier; she delivered her child in a tractor.

A recent Maternal and Perinatal Death Inquiry (MAPEDI) study by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in Guna and Shivpuri districts of Madhya Pradesh and Purulia district in West Bengal, says most maternal deaths occur within six to 24 hours of delivery, the immediate cause being hemorrhage. In most of the cases surveyed, the women were found to be severely anaemic, and had been so from adolescence. The MAPEDI study, based on interviews with families that had lost pregnant mothers, highlighted that the majority of the deaths were preventable and that people would access services if they could. Financial constraints and bad roads are among the factors that prevent pregnant women and their families from accessing medical attention during and after pregnancy. The fact that trained nurses and midwives are not available round the clock also pushes up maternal mortality.

In the Purulia study of nearly 106 maternal deaths, it was found that nearly 80 per cent of the women had sought formal care at some point of their illness and nearly 46 per cent had sought formal care after complications arose. Among the reasons for not seeking formal care, 23 per cent of the respondents (family members) felt that transportation was a leading cause. While 16 per cent felt that the person herself did not perceive she was sick enough, only a meagre 8 per cent felt that the problem required traditional care. Nine per cent could not pay for transport, while 10 per cent said transport was not available.

The study, presented by Sudha Balakrishan, indicated there was an awareness of the need to seek health care, just as there was in Madhya Pradesh. But while most respondents in Purulia could afford transport to hospitals and health centres, very few in the Madhya Pradesh case study said they could do so. Shahikala Nageshwar of Jawarkothi village in Seoni district belongs to a Scheduled Caste. Pregnant and underweight (43 kg) at 19, she was taken to hospital for her delivery on a bullock cart by a midwife.

Following the UNICEF study, the Government of West Bengal decided to review every maternal death. It also issued an order making all maternity beds in government hospitals free of cost. The problem is that despite heightened allocations for health care, the Central government continues to view health care as important "not only for reaping the demographic dividend, having a healthy productive workforce and general welfare, but also for attaining the goal of population stabilisation. Population stabilisation is proposed to be achieved by addressing issues like that of child survival, safe motherhood and contraception" (Economic Survey 2006-2007). Health activists have increasingly begun to de-link the goals of population stabilisation from MMR and infant mortality rate (IMR), the government's approach remains much the same.
The NFHS-III interviewed 230,000 women in the 15-49 age group and men in the 15-54 age group. It found that 44.5 per cent of the women were married before the age of 18. Jharkhand recorded most of the cases (61.2 per cent), followed by Bihar (60.3 per cent) Andhra Pradesh (54.7 per cent) and Rajasthan (57.1 per cent); the lowest numbers were reported from Himachal Pradesh (12.3 per cent), Jammu and Kashmir (14 per cent), Kerala (15.4 per cent) and Punjab (19.4 per cent).

There seems to have been a shift from a vertical approach to health care to a more decentralised one and the 2007-08 Budget proposals include higher allocations for health care. But there needs to be a greater emphasis on an inter-sectoral approach, especially on food security. It is not only a question of meeting the Millennium Development Goals any more, it is about being accountable and sensitive to the needs of one half of the nation's population.

Kudos to frontline on picking up this issue...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Anaemia a huge problem in India: NFHS-3

One World SouthAsia

82 % children anaemic in MP

India has among the highest number of cases of anaemia in the world, according to the National Family Health Survey recently undertaken. The reasons range from high cost of healthcare facilities, poor food quality and the low status of women As many as 79.1% of India’s children between the ages of three and six, and 56.2% of married women in the age-group 15-49 were found to be anaemic in 2006. The figure for the latter was 51.8% in 1999.

Releasing the official figures of the National Family Health Survey-3, Werner Schultink, chief of Unicef India, child health and nutrition, said, on February 21, that there were a number of reasons for India having the largest number of anaemic married women and children in the world. He cited the low social status of women, poor food quality, high cost of healthcare, and genetic problems as being responsible for the problem. NFHS-3 is published jointly by Unicef, the United Nations Population Fund, Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Avahan, an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Schultink explained that about 20% of pregnant women in the US and Europe are anaemic. “Even in Indonesia the anaemia rate among women is 30-40%. The NFHS data suggests the rate of anaemia has gone up since 1999 in India.” The survey revealed that among the states, Assam is the worst affected with 72% of married women being anaemic, followed by Haryana (69.7%) and Jharkhand (68.4%). The prevalence of malaria in states like Assam was cited as one of the chief reasons for this sorry state of affairs.

Talking about the condition of children, M Babille, who heads the health division of Unicef India, said that the situation had worsened in 16 Indian states over the last seven years. Among the states worst hit, 79% of children in Andhra Pradesh suffer from anaemia. Rajasthan has a figure of 79.8% and Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh over 82%. Portraying a negative image of India’s growth trajectory in the health sector, Babille added that 33% of women in the 15-49 age-group were underweight. Among the states, 43% of women in Bihar are underweight, followed by Jharkhand (42.6%) and Chhattisgarh (41%). “Nearly 40% of children below the age of three in Maharashtra are underweight too,” he said. This latest National Family Health Survey, conducted in 2005-06, shows that the number of anaemia cases has increased among women, while there has been a slight decline in the case of children. Shockingly, even in the nation’s capital, Delhi, as many as 63.2% of children in the 3-6 age-group, and 43.4% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 years are anaemic, according to the survey. The last survey in 1998-99 showed 69% of children and 40.5% of women were anaemic in Delhi. According to Sharda Jain, chairperson of the women doctor’s wing of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), India has one of the highest numbers of anaemia cases in the world, with nearly 90% of women and children anaemic. Narender Saini of IMA explained that the normal haemoglobin level in the blood, according to Indian standards, is 12.5 g/dl and that if the number falls below 10 g/dl, the person is considered anaemic. In Delhi, about 30% of people from affluent families, who have access to good nutritional food, are anaemic. The third in a series of surveys, NFHS-3 is based on a sample of households at the national and state levels, with the basic goal of providing data on health and family welfare.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Madhya Pradesh women still have long way to go

By Sanjay Sharma

Bhopal, March 8 (IANS) Women in Madhya Pradesh lag behind their counterparts in most part of the country on almost every front - from health, education, liberty to rights - a sad statement on their condition as the world marks International Women's Day Thursday. With regard to their participation in governance, while the Constitutional 73rd Amendment has reserved one-third of seats for women and enabled their presence in panchayat (village council) bodies, they continue to be under male dominance.

"Women panchayat members continue to suffer from gender bias," says a worker of Mahila Chetna Manch (MCM), an NGO working in the field of women empowerment. Despite the seats reserved for women, it is men, who dominate the proceedings in the panchayat - through the women members, who happen to be wives, mothers or daughters.

In the case of women sarpanchs (heads) of Salkhera and Barbel gram panchayats, in Khargone district, 44 percent women do not go alone to attend meetings, some are accompanied by their husbands or adult male members of the family, while the rest said their husbands actually represent them, said Abha Chauhan, of the Institute of Social Sciences in her observation on women's participation in panchayat in Scheduled Areas with special reference to Madhya Pradesh.

There have been cases when women representatives signed documents while totally ignorant of the contents due to illiteracy. More than 1,300 women sarpanchs have been slapped with false corruption charges. Some 50 of them have been removed from office through forced no-confidence motions. They have also been threatened and humiliated.
Domestic violence against women in the state has increased three times in the last five years, police records say. From 7,283 cases in 2001, the figure went up to 23,215 in 2005. The 2006 figures are yet to be computed. The new National Family Health Survey-III data reveals that 45 percent women in the state have never heard of HIV/AIDS. The state has a Maternal Mortality Ratio of 379 (maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) - one of the six highest in the country. Approximately 27-30 women die every day in the state within 42 days of delivery due to complications and unsafe abortions.

According to the survey, the state contributes 7,000 maternal mortality cases every year to the figure of 70,000 for the country as a whole. The sex ratio is 829 females for every 1,000 males.
Lack of transport and access to proper medical facilities as well as the absence of planning for delivery are major impediments to safe motherhood coupled with shortage of medicines.
"Though the state has launched schemes - like promoting institutional deliveries - to arrest maternal mortality, specially among those below the poverty line and those belonging to scheduled castes and tribes, much still needs to be done," say activists working in the field.
While institutional deliveries have risen from 27 percent in 2004-2005 to 35 percent in 2005-2006, it is faced by impediments like low awareness about various schemes for pregnant women, lack of planning for delivery and shortage of medicines and health facilities, the study points out.

Around 40.11 percent of women have a body-mass weight index below normal or are under nourished, says the survey undertaken by the union government. "About 57.9 percent pregnant women, between 15-49 years of age, are anaemic while only 46.7 percent women participate in household decisions and 45.8 percent have experienced spousal violence," it says.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

77,000 maternal deaths per year in India

A woman dies every seven minutes in India due to complications related to pregnancy, the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) was informed today. "There are approximately 77,000 maternal deaths per year, which in other words mean one women dies every seven minutes due to complications related to pregnancy and child birth," said Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Panabaka Lakshmi in a written reply in Lok Sabha.

She said these findings were based on the official estimates of Registrar General of India (RGI). The Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) for India (2001-03) is 301 per 100,000 live births.
Lakshmi informed the House that as per the latest survey reports, the reasons for high Maternal Mortality in the country are--Hemorrhage (38 percent), Sepsis (11 percent), Abortion (eight percent), Obstructed Labor (five percent), Hypertensive Disorders (five percent) and other reasons (34 percent). "To provide basic facilities in rural areas including those at the time of delivery, the government has launched the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in the year 2005 with special emphasis on improving the health status of rural population throughout the country," she said.

The mission will operate over a period of seven years from 2005 to 2012 with the goal of achieving reduction of Maternal Mortality Ratio to 100 per 100,000 live births, she added.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A 10th of Indian maternity deaths in Madhya Pradesh

Bhopal, March 2 Madhya Pradesh accounts for 10 percent of all maternity related deaths in India, says a new study. The reasons for this are many including lack of transport or access to proper medical facilities as well as absence of planning for delivering babies.

So says a UNICEF facilitated study by the state's health department. 'Shortage of medicines at health centres and the disinterested attitude of the medical staff also add to the problem,' adds the study. 'Madhya Pradesh reports 10 percent of maternal deaths in the country while India reports 20 percent of maternal deaths in the world,' said UNICEF state head Hamid El Bashir, speaking to IANS. Though the state has launched many schemes, such as promoting institutional deliveries, to arrest maternal mortality especially among the poor and those belonging to Dalits and tribals, a sustained commitment was required, say experts and activists working in the field.

The study was carried out in August 2006 in seven districts with high institutional child delivery rates and seven with low rates. It covered 1,705 women, of whom 934 had institutional deliveries. The rest had home delivery. The districts covered under the first category were Indore, Ujjain, Bhopal, Japalpur, Panna, Umaria and Gwalior and those under the second included West Nimar, Ratlam, Betul, Chhattarpur, Sidhi and Bhind.

With a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 379, Madhya Pradesh is among the six worst affected states in the country. Approximately 27 to 30 women die every day in the state within 42 days of delivery. Complications during pregnancy and unsafe abortions are among the main reasons for the rising MMR. While institutional deliveries rose from 27 percent in 2004-05 to 35 percent in 2005-06, low awareness about various schemes for pregnant women, lack of planning for deliveries and unavailability of medicines at health centers were some of the impediments that still needed to be tackled on a priority basis. Only eight percent women interviewed had planned where to go for delivery and over 75 percent women had to buy medicines. 'Fifty percent women cited transport problems and cost of hospital delivery as reasons for preferring home delivery,' the study pointed out.

Bashir told IANS that the civil society needed to engage communities at a high level to push accountability within the system to help women and children get a better deal.