The rural pocket of Shivgarh, barely 85 km from Lucknow, has been successful in bringing down infant mortality rate. And this hasn’t been achieved through medical practices— it’s been sheer wisdom.
The practices made part of the culture in the 39 gram sabhas here are as simple as — not bathing or scrubbing an infant for several hours after birth, ensuring that mother’s ‘first milk’ is fed to the infant and giving newborns skin-to-skin therapy.
The best part of this wisdom is that many cultures in the world have begun replicating it and the worst is — UP and the rest of India are yet to acknowledge it.
Even the world famous medical journal ‘Lancet’ has published a paper on Shivgarh’s community-oriented non-medical practices that can bring infant mortality rate down across the world. These practices are easy to adopt because they involve little or minimal money and no medicines.
However, both the UP and Central governments are not aware of the ‘wisdom-kit’ in Shivgarh block of Rae Bareli district that can bring down infant mortality rate — this despite the fact that UP is among the toppers on the mortality rate list in India.
Madhu Sharma, 35, who had been a traditional midwife for 17 years before the advent of the project, said: “We have changed practices. Now we don’t bathe an infant immediately and ensure that an infant gets the ‘first milk’ of mother. We cut the umbilical cord with a sterilised blade, tie it with a thread boiled in water and make the women give ‘Kangaroo mother care’ (KMC) to prevent infant death from ‘thanda bukhar ’(hypothermia).” The project has trained people like her and sensitised the community about the simple practices.
Getting famous in the world as ‘Shivgarh Project’-- the community infant mortality reduction practice -- is the only established example in the world that has brought infant down without any medical intervention. The project’s actual name is ‘Saksham’.
It was initiated in 2004 under a collaborative research work of the John Hopkins University, USA and King George’s Medical University, Lucknow, but now is an independent research work of a husband-wife duo, Aarti and Dr Vishwajeet Kumar. Vishwajeet had his medical degree from John Hopkins while Aarti was an infotech professional in Singapore.
He said, “In five years, the community reduced the neonatal mortality rate by 56% and maternal mortality y rate by 34% - without any medical intervention.”
Two years ago, Melinda Gates, the co-chairperson and trustee of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, visited the rural pocket and had said, “This should be taken very seriously and not in a sceptic manner. It is a researched and proven experiment and governments (across the world) should implement it.” The foundation has begun implementing it in its projects.
“Skin-to-skin therapy is nature’s incubator for a newborn. It gives an infant three things - food (from mother’s breast), warmth and protection,” said Vishwajeet.