Nearly 70,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth in India every year, making it one out of every 48 woman who is pregnant.
In an analysis done by members of the Indian wing of the White Ribbon Alliance India (WRA), an advocacy group working for safe motherhood across the globe, it was found that a large number of underprivileged pregnant women in India run the risk of dying of complications such as anaemia, post-delivery haemorrhage, septicaemia etc.
“Most of these mortality causes are absolutely preventable; all that is required is to create awareness among people, especially women. Most of the women have questions that they look answers to but aren’t able to ask around. Our group holds public hearings especially to help these women to voice their concern amidst the right people,” said Aparajita Gogoi, national coordinator, WRA.
Public hearings organised by state-level representatives of the WRA are a platform for underprivileged women to interact with local-officials, healthcare workers, and NGO members working for their cause, and speak openly about their experiences and issues in front of them.
The awareness level is so low that not many women or their families know about various government schemes and plans created specifically for the benefit of underprivileged pregnant women. The members ensure that this platform is utilised to its optimum potential by creating a comfortable environment.
Women not only get a chance to increase their general awareness on the topics of pregnancy and childbirth, they also get to expose loopholes in the healthcare system at the ground level during these public hearings.
So far the alliance has been able to hold maximum number of public hearings in the state of Orissa, and also three each at Rajasthan and Maharashtra. “You have to have a strong presence in the state and good rapport with its government to hold a hearing; otherwise it will just be like any other complaint platform with no action from the government. We invite people who actually have the power to change things,” said Gogoi.
* 99% of maternal deaths happen in developing countries
* India contributes to 25% of global maternal deaths
* 70% of these deaths are preventable
* More than 50% of women are anaemic in India
* 50% of married women in India have access to family planning
* 66% of women leave hospital within hours of delivery
* Just 3% people in underserved areas are aware of their entitlement
* 30% of women in India are marrying before 15 years of age
In the recent WRA public hearings, organised within 12 districts of Orissa, a majority of women complained of facing corruption and ill treatment by staff of the local hospital or health centre.
“Can you identify one woman in this huge gathering who has given birth safely in a hospital without bribing?” asked one of the women in the gathering to the district social welfare officer.
Women complained that Rs 1,400 that the government provides as incentive to encourage them to deliver in hospitals is mostly spent either in paying bribes or purchasing medicines.
“The most difficult part is the follow up. People on the dais may commit to improve the situation, but it’s upon us to maintain enough pressure to ensure what is promised is taken care of,” she said.
The alliance also works hard to bust the myth that only women in rural areas do not get adequate care during pregnancy. Just about 20 km from the heart of New Delhi’s Connaught Place, at the Badarpur slums, a large number of women are dying giving birth to children for reasons similar to any underprivileged area in the country.
“It’s a misconception that maternal mortality is limited to only rural areas. In fact, even in major cities such as Delhi, we have underserved areas where women don’t have access to adequate healthcare facilities and no one to listen to their plight,” said Gogoi.
“Dalit, tribal and other women belonging to marginalised sections of society are most vulnerable. Not many of them still value their women enough to take her to a hospital,” she added.
Though women are their primary area of focus, but members from their families are equally welcome to be a part of these hearings.
“After all, the women we are talking about hardly take decisions without consulting their families,” said Gogoi.