Dr Prakash C Verma, 32, is part of the small four-doctor team that works in the neonatal department of the government-run District Hospital in Guna in Madhya Pradesh. What makes him a newsmaker is that he has snatched more than 1,500 malnourished and underweight children from sure death in 2008.
How it’s done is simple. When a woman goes into labour, the village health-worker calls the district hospital for emergency transport. The woman is rushed to the hospital, where the baby gets an immediate health check-up after birth.
In a year, over 11,000 women in Guna have used the call service and an average of five sick children are admitted in the neonatal ward every day.
“In just one year, we have saved 1,500 lives in our small department that caters to a population of 10 lakh people. Saving a baby and handing her back to his mother give me satisfaction,” said Dr Verma, who did his MD in paediatrics in Bhopal, but left the city to work in Guna on December 14, 2007.
Dr Verma clearly plans to stay on. Unlike other doctors on small-town postings, he has moved his family to Guna to be with him. “I’m not alone. Others like me are choosing to work in their home state, Madhya Pradesh, which is among India’s five states with the highest neonatal mortality (death within the first 28 days of life),” he said.
India, Indonesia and Bangladesh are the three countries with the largest health-worker shortage in absolute numbers in the world, says UNICEF’s The State of The World’s Children 2009: Maternal and Newborn Health report. Research has sown that over 80 per cent of India’s 78,000 women who die at childbirth and 72 per 1,000 children who die before age 5 can be saved if they get basic healthcare services.
“It’s a vicious cycle. Babies whose mothers die during the first six weeks of their lives are far more likely to die in the first five years,” said Dr Karin Hulshof, UNICEF India Representative. Last year, the Hindustan Times had broken the news of malnutrition-related child deaths in four tribal districts of Madhya Pradesh — Satna, Khandwa, Shivpuri and Sheopur.
“India has cut its under-five deaths from 117 to 72 per 1,000 births between 1990 and 2007, but the same progress has not been made in addressing health risks of mothers. The Guna success has the potential to change that,” said Dr Hulshof.