Melinda Gates, 45, wife of legendary Microsoft founder Bill Gates and co-chairperson of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just spent two days in the dusty villages of Barabanki and Rae Bareli districts of central Uttar Pradesh.
On her fourth visit to India from Tuesday, Melinda spent the two days discussing the health of newborns with village women, many of whom mistook her for a Hollywood star.
The Gates foundation has committed around $1 billion (Rs 4,500 crore) to projects in India.
Though a meeting with Congress president Sonia and her son Rahul Gandhi in Delhi, and with UP chief minister Mayawati were part of Melinda’s four-day whirlwind tour, the highpoint for her trip remained the success of the Foundation’s Kangaroo Care (hugging a newborn close after birth for warmth and nursing it) programme in UP, which has since been replicated in faraway Malawi in central Africa.
“Nine million children die before the age of 5 globally, of which 2 million occur in India,” said Melinda.
A part of the Rs 250 crore-Gates funding for UP goes towards lowering newborn deaths in seven districts.
“I spoke to mothers and their mothers-in-law about the importance of breastfeeding after work, keepingthe newborn warm by holding him/her close and avoiding bathing him to prevent hypothermia (low body temperature) and infections,” said Melinda.
It sounds simple but often doesn’t happen. “In UP babies are given goat’s milk and tea, and not breastfed for days while the mother waits for the priest to choose an auspicious time to start nursing,” said Melinda.
The efforts have shown results. “In the Shivgarh block of Rai Bareli, interventions such as these lowered newborn death by 54 per cent,” said Melinda, quoting a study in The Lancet.