Gates takes away a key from Indian villagers

Melinda Gates, the co-chair and trustee of Bill & Milenda Gates Foundation, on Wednesday, took a 'key' away from illiterate villagers living 85 kilometers from the state capital.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2010 18:58 IST
Pankaj Jaiswal
Pankaj Jaiswal
Hindustan Times

Melinda Gates, the co-chair and trustee of Bill & Milenda Gates Foundation, on Wednesday, took a 'key' away from illiterate villagers living 85 kilometers from the state capital. The key is actually community oriented non-medical practices that can bring infant mortality rate down across the world.

The practices are as simple as-not bathing or scrubbing an infant for several hours after the birth or ensuring that mother's 'first milk' must be fed to the infant.

"This should be taken very seriously and not in a skeptic manner. It is a researched and proven experiment and governments (across the world) should borrow the concept and implement," said Milenda to a foreign television channel.

She and foundation members had an hour long interaction with Saksham volunteers at a community center of the village and then sat for an hour at a 'Chaupal' (village meeting) under a banyan tree to grasp the community's experience.

Gates foundation intends to replicate it in developing countries. The way is easy for developing countries to adopt because it involves making communities alter childbirth practices and awareness. It involves little or minimal money because no equipments or medicines are required.

Both the Uttar Pradesh government and the Central government are not aware of the wisdom-kit in the villages in Shivgarh block of the Rae Bareilly district that can bring down infant mortality rate down-this despite the fact that UP is among the worst in the mortality rate and India among the worst countries in the world.

Getting famous in the world as 'Shivgarh Project'--the community infant mortality reduction practices--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'.

The gates foundation learnt about the Shivgarh Project through a 'Lancet' article. Lancet is rated as the world's top medical journal which did a nineteen page article on the project. The project was initiated a collaborative research work of John Hopkins University, USA and King George's Medical University (now Chatrapati Shauji Maharaj Medical University), Lucknow, but now is an independent research work of a husband-wife duo, Aarti and Dr Vishwajeet Kumar.

Madhu Sharma, 35 who had been a traditional midwife for seventeen years before the advent of the project said: "Two infants had died by my hands before, but now it's zero. We have changed practices-now we don't bathe an infant immediately, ensure that an infant gets the 'firstmilk' of mother, we cut umbilical cord by sterilized blade, tie it with a thread boiled in water and make mother/women give 'Kangaroo mother care'(KMC) to prevent infant death from 'thanda bukhaar'(hypothermia)." The project has trained people like her and sensitized the community about the simple practices.

Vishwajeet said: "In five years the community reduced the neo-natal mortality rate by 58 per cent and maternal mortality rate by 34 per cent-without any medical intervention."

Vishwajeet had his medical degree from John Hopkins while Aarti was an infotech professional in Singapore-both quit their obvious career choices abroad and chose to work in Shivgarh villages.

The foundation, known as worlds largest transparently operated charitable trust is based in Seattle, Washington.

The foundation works to help people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty.

Bill Gates is the techie who took the Microsoft Corporation to dizzying heights and now the couple is busy in philanthropic works.

The foundation supports grantees in over 100 countries and has asset trust endowment to the tune of $ 33.5 billion.

First Published: Mar 24, 2010 18:57 IST