Need some pre-natal and infant care tips of the traditional kind? If you are in Assam, you can turn to 'friendly' grandmas appointed in government-run hospitals.
Assam has one of the highest infant mortality rates in India. In 2007, the State recorded 66 infant deaths per million births against the national mark of 55. Keen on an improved IMR show, the State's Health Department on Wednesday announced a slew of innovative schemes.
One of them is a one-year pilot project called Sakhi. It entails appointing on a contractual basis grandmas or elderly village women well versed with traditional care for newborns as well as their mothers.
"We are not questioning modern methods, but traditional knowledge handed down by the Daadimaas cannot be ignored. The idea is to dovetail age-old baby care methods with modern techniques, and the role of the Sakhis would be to provide tips to women admitted in the hospitals in advanced stage of pregnancy," said Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Only a couple of State-run hospitals would have two Sakhis each. "We do not want to end up with another appointment scheme, and as such would like to see how it pans out for a year," Sarma said, adding the government is also weighing the option of appointing younger, home science trained women as Sakhis within the next 100 days.
The Sakhi scheme would be coinciding with a gift plan for mothers to ensure infants are kept in hospitals for at least 48 hours after birth. "The chances of infection are higher if infants are not kept in sanitized hospitals for two days after birth, and medical researchers here have found out that the tendency of taking leaving hospitals soon after delivery is adding to Assam's IMR," said the Health Minister.
The gift plan, named Mamata, will cost the government Rs 400 per newborn in the rural areas. The package includes a towel, a baby blanket, a mosquito net, two sets of nappies and two sets of infant dresses. With some 6 lakh babies being born in rural areas of Asam every year, the annual expenditure on Mamata would be Rs 24 crore.
A third scheme is a cashless health card that entails a below-poverty-line family of five - two main policyholders and three dependents - free treatment in government or accredited hospitals of up to Rs 25,000 every year in lieu of Rs 30 paid as annual premium.