|© UNICEF India/2011/Crouch|
|Niranjana Parihar, 25, a nurse midwife, helps Lalita Bhilala, 26, breastfeed her newborn baby. She is among dozens of young midwives striving to reduce high infant and maternal mortality rates in Madhya Pradesh, India.|
By Diana Coulter
MADHYA PRADESH, India, 31 March 2011 – Sanju Kaim got an unexpected bonus on her first day as an auxiliary nurse midwife in Jhagar in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. Alone in the village’s small health centre, she delivered not one baby girl, but twins.
She was a bit nervous. Then 23, she had previously only briefly worked as a beauty parlour assistant. Suddenly she was responsible for the health and well-being of young mothers who would rely on her to bring new life into the world.
“I knew I had studied hard to be a midwife and was well-prepared to do this job,” Ms. Kaim recalls. “But I admit that I was surprised that day.”
A heavily pregnant woman arrived in the ‘Janani Express’ (Mother’s Express), the centre’s free mini-van service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The mother-to-be had been travelling for almost an hour on rural roads from the village of Ratanagar, about 20 km away. By the time she arrived at the maternity ward, she was almost fully dilated, says Ms. Kaim.
|© UNICEF India/2011/Crouch|
|Reena Dakhad (left) , 20, with nurse midwife Sanju Kaim at the Jhagar village sub-centre in Guna District in central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Ms. Kaim delivered about 200 babies last year.|
The woman just made it to the delivery room. Moments later, Ms. Kaim was holding the babies, who each weighed barely 2 kg. “I was so happy to do this,” she says now. “I had no regrets about joining this field because it is so good to help children and their mothers. It gives me a lot of pride.”
Ms. Kaim has already delivered about 200 babies since then, and is just one of dozens of young midwives striving to make a difference in Madhya Pradesh, where infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in India.
With UNICEF support, the state government has now created a network of health sub-centres offering around-the-clock safe delivery services to women from remote villages who would otherwise be at greater risk giving birth at home.
In Ms. Kaim’s maternity ward, new mother Reena Dhakad, 20, smiles from underneath a heavy blanket as she tends to her baby boy born just two hours earlier.
Her mother-in-law, Ramkali Dhakad, 49, says the sub-centre services are far superior to the days when women gave birth on the floor at home. If mother or child had difficulties, many died, she says.
“Previously we had no choice,” says Ms. Dhakad. “Everyone should come to these hospitals.”
At another sub-centre in nearby Fatehgarh village, nurse-midwife Niranjana Parihar, 25, tends to new mother, Panabai Saharia, 20, and her baby girl, who is swaddled in bright red, yellow and green scarves.
“When she arrived she was quite afraid but now she is happy and is taking things well,” says Ms. Parihar of the new arrival. The young nurse midwife speaks with the authority of someone who has already delivered at least 600 babies.
Ms. Parihar was barely 21 when she first came to work at this sub-centre, in one of the most remote areas in the state. She is far from her family but enjoys the work immensely and has the companionship of friend and fellow nurse, Kamla Kaim, 27.
“We help each other at work and in our free time, we watch our daily TV soaps or I sketch,” says Ms. Parihar.
It is young service providers like Sanju and Niranjana who play a crucial role in making these programmes a success, says Tania Goldner, chief of UNICEF’s Madhya Pradesh field office.
“I really believe if anybody can make a difference and encourage change in this country, it’s the young people,” says Dr. Goldner.
In India, pregnancy comes with a high price
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