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HindustanTimes Sun,31 Aug 2014

Where infant safety is more than skin deep

Pankaj Jaiswal, Hindustan Times  Rae Bareli, September 25, 2013
First Published: 10:19 IST(25/9/2013) | Last Updated: 10:26 IST(25/9/2013)

If Uttar Pradesh’s infant and mother mortality scenario looks like a hopeless desert, then the Shivgarh block in Rae Bareli, nearly 85 kilometres from Lucknow, is an oasis in it.

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This rural pocket has been successful in bringing down infant mortality rate, not through medical practices but with native wisdom.

The practices to keep infants safe have been made a part of the culture of 39 gram sabhas here. They are as simple as not bathing or scrubbing an infant for several hours after birth, ensuring the 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-originated non-medical practices that can bring infant the 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 the infant mortality rate.

This is despite the fact that UP has one of the highest infant mortality rates in India.

Madhu Sharma, 36, 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 the 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)”, she added.

The project has trained people like her and sensitised the community about the simple practices.

Famous as ‘Shivgarh Project’— the community infant mortality reduction practice—is the only established example in the world that has brought infant mortality 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 it 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 neo-natal mortality rate by 56% and maternal mortality rate by 34% without any medical intervention.”

Two years ago, Melinda Gates, the co-chair and trustee of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, visited the rural pockets and said: “This should be taken very seriously and not in a sceptical 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.


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