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In the State of Madhya Pradesh, India, an around-the-clock village health centre proves to be a lifeline for thousands

In September 2012, UNICEF released the 2012 Progress Report on Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed. The report shows that the number of children dying before the age of 5 has drastically declined over the past two decades.

Click here for more information on A Promise Renewed.

by Priyanka Pruthi

MADHYA PRADESH, India, 1 November 2012 – Parched earth, cloudless skies and crops wilting on a barren landscape are all the eye can see when we travel to the Chharch village in Madhya Pradesh, bordering the desert State of Rajasthan. The dirt roads and sweltering heat make the two-hour drive from Shivpuri, the closest town, extremely uncomfortable – a journey that’s unimaginable to cover by foot.

Yet, for thousands living in this neglected region, where public buses are a rare sight, where clean drinking water is a luxury and sanitation facilities are yet to be built, there has been no option but to travel at least 40 km to reach the closest health facility.

VIDEO:UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on how healthcare reaches hardest-to-reach India.  Watch in RealPlayer


Bridging a dangerous distance

Distance is dangerous in villages poorly connected to towns and cities. Too many women and children in Madhya Pradesh have lost their lives because they couldn’t get help in time.

But now, a maternal and child health centre in Chharch is giving them a fighting chance. The centre was set up by the government of Madhya Pradesh and UNICEF in 2010 with the aim of taking healthcare services to the doorstep of communities that have been socially isolated and continue to be untouched by the booming economic growth that has brought so much opportunity to India.

The Chharch Maternal and Child Health Centre runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  It’s staffed by three auxiliary nurse midwives and an ambulance service that transports pregnant women and children to and from the facility and takes patients with complications to the nearest referral hospital, 75 km away.

“Women come here for regular check-ups, and we treat children for illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria, as well. People come here for primary treatment, and we refer them to the district hospital if the condition is serious,” says auxiliary nurse midwife Manju Mishra.

© UNICEF India/2012/Pruthi
Villagers at the Chharch village in Madhya Pradesh, India, draw water from a well. This village, which borders the desert State of Rajasthan, lacks access to clean drinking water, sanitation facilities and effective public transport.

Making the unthinkable possible

Before the centre was opened, the possibility of having free medical assistance on call every minute of the day, every day of the year, had been unthinkable for communities in and around Chharch.

We meet Pancho Bai at the health centre. She has delivered a daughter the night before – her first child to be born at a health facility under the supervision of trained birth attendants. 

“Earlier, if we had a problem, we had to go Pohri town. We had to walk, find a bus or hire a tractor…it was very difficult to find transport…It was very hard to travel if you were pregnant or traveling with children,” she says.

Over the past two years, the Chharch health centre has handled more than 650 deliveries. More than 30,000 people now depend on it for their medical needs. Because electricity supply is a huge problem, solar-powered lights have been installed that allow the centre to maintain vaccination storage units and to attend to emergencies at night.

A lifeline for more communities

With one maternal death reported in India every 10 minutes, the country is still far from achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. But efforts like the Chharch Maternal and Child Health Centre are beginning to make dents in the social statistics. And plans are to roll out more and more such centres.

© UNICEF India/2012/Gulati
Auxiliary nurse midwife Manju Mishra works on documents for a patient's release by light of a solar-powered lamp at the Chharch Maternal and Child Health Centre. The centre provides 24/7 care for villagers, including both a local ambulance service and referrals and transport to area hospitals.

“This is a partnership between the government of Madhya Pradesh and UNICEF,” explains UNICEF Health Specialist Gagan Gupta. “[The] Government of Madhya Pradesh, with technical support of UNICEF, is setting up other such centres across the State. We have 125 such centres in the State, and a lot of women from the marginalized groups are benefiting from them.”

Other states in India are also scaling up this chain model, which includes a primary maternal and child health service with a referral system for bigger hospitals that have around-the-clock call centres.

First step down a long road

Sitting by her baby, Pancho Bai tells us that the comfort of knowing help is at hand is unparalleled.

But it’s not easy to identify with her sense of relief when you can almost see the brutal summer heat pierce through the baby’s skin. It’s 110º F, and there are no fans or coolers in the ward.

Drained by the unbearable temperature, some of the other newborns have no energy even to cry. It’s an infuriating image, but also a reminder that this centre is a first and much-needed step down a long, desolate road to ‘development’.



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