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Village Health Planning creates demand for health services

© UNICEF 2008
Youth volunteers make regular home visits to curb undernourishment

Vidya Kulkarni

Until six months ago, the women in Mategadi village of Latur district, Maharashtra genuinely didn’t understand what the big deal was with institutional deliveries.

The youth were motivated to take up community mobilization as a result of the UNICEF-supported Village Health Planning Process that took place in September 2007 in their village. Village Health Planning (VHP) is a joint venture of UNICEF, the Latur District Administration and NGOs and was field tested for the first time in Devani block in Latur district. 

The women had been deprived of health services and benefits meant for them for so long, that they had accepted the occasional complications and hygiene related problems arising out of home deliveries as part and package of their destiny. 

This situation, however, changed altogether once they became aware of government health services meant for women. Now they are convinced about the benefits of regular check ups at the health center during pregnancy and also receive mobility support to reach the center for their delivery. 

Testimony to this change lies in the fact that all seven deliveries in last six months have happened in the public health center and women are happy about it. 

This sea change is the outcome of local youth volunteers who worked with the women to ensure that pregnant women in their village get access to safe delivery and benefit from government schemes like Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY).  

© UNICEF 2008
Youth volunteers inform community women about health services

“The idea of VHP originated after National Rural Health Mission was initiated in Maharashtra in December 2006,” shared Dr. Daniel Abner, Consultant UNICEF while explaining the purpose of this initiative. “NRHM envisages a bottom up health planning process, whereby village health concerns get reflected in the respective block, district and ultimately in the state health plan. For this NRHM introduced a concept called village health plan. The document, however, has not explained how these plans should be prepared. In the absence of guidelines to develop a village health plan, it may happen that village information would merely get collated and presented as the plan. Therefore UNICEF decided to develop a demonstration model for Village Health Plan as recommended under the NRHM and carried out VHP with community involvement.”

District Administration, especially the CEO Dr. Praveen Gedam, showed keen interest in piloting the endeavor in Devani block and provided support to seek involvement of all health and government functionaries in the block.

The process of actual VHP, a 5-day intensive and interactive village level training, was carried out by Aashadeep, an NGO. Well oriented teams from this organisation completed the VHP process in 61 villages, covered by 2 Primary Health Centers and 14 Sub Centers in the block, in a period of two months during August and September 2007.

At present, there are 320 volunteers – 140 girls and 180 boys, who have taken it up upon themselves to pursue the health related concerns stressed through their respective village action plan. Volunteers have also undergone a foundation training to be able to take up the action plan further.

Bridging the information gap has certainly helped in enhancing community response to institutional deliveries. The volunteers work closely with the local health and anganwadi worker leading to better turn out for routine immunization, pulse polio sessions and regular weighing to check malnourishment.

Devani block as a whole seems to have zeroed in on the issue of malnourishment and institutional deliveries. 

Said Bharat Gaikwad, a youth volunteer from Mategadi. “Earlier people were not very clear on how to access them. Now we explain how the scheme works so that the women can take complete benefit of the scheme.”

The VHP experience in Devani block clearly indicates that the response of community members to health services improves considerably when they are actively involved in health planning. This learning is very close to the idea of health plan as envisaged under NRHM.

In order to further fine tune the model and explore its replicability UNICEF is also planning to carry out similar exercises in two more blocks in two other districts.

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