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Building health and hope for soon-to-be mothers in rural India

© UNICEF/ROSA/Ulrike Gilbert
A young mother in Baran Hospital, Rajasthan, India, who gave birth a few days earlier.

26 May 2004—When 26-year-old Shanta went to the health centre for a regular prenatal check up, no one took notice of the puffiness on her face and arms. Later on she developed serious complications. By the time she got to the nearest hospital, it was too late; she died giving birth to twins, and her children died fifteen days later. The puffiness on her face and arms was a sign of high blood pressure, which can be life-threatening during pregnancy.

Shanta’s story is all too typical among women in rural India where soon-to-be mothers often face devastating risks during pregnancy like poor health, unsafe home births and inadequate access to quality healthcare. One woman dies every five minutes giving birth to a child. More than 100,000 women die every year due to child-birth related causes.

UNICEF has been working with the Government of India, health partners, and donors to address this situation. The “Women’s Right for Life and Health” project aims to ensure that women and their children, especially among the poorest communities, receive adequate health care. The project works to provide early detection of health risks and immediate treatment of pregnancy-related complications by competent and qualified personnel.

© UNICEF India/Biswas
Mother and child at the government district hospital Ernakulam, Kerala India.

During the last four years the project has seen significant results in the states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, the number of births taking place in medical facilities has risen from 18 percent to 30 percent. The percentage of deliveries assisted by skilled attendants increased by more than 30 percent in the district of Baran (Rajasthan).  Communities have also responded positively, and voluntary blood donations for use during obstetric emergencies are rising.

The project has succeeded in getting the attention of top decision-makers in India. Maternal mortality reduction has become not only a state priority, but a national priority as well. The Government’s commitment is reflected in the goals of the National Population Policy and the National Health Policy. Sustained advocacy and aggressive fund raising are now more important than ever.

The positive results of the “Women’s Right for Life and Health” project give hope for new mothers.  The goal is to ensure that every new mother’s story can conclude, not as Shanta’s did, but rather with a well-cared-for mother taking her healthy child home.



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