Sita Devi and her husband at the maternity hut in Samastipur.
Samastipur, September 6- In a unique initiative to ensure that pregnant women have access to proper medical care during the floods; UNICEF and the Government of Bihar have set up maternity huts to provide medical care to expecting mothers.
And in the early hours of September 4, Sita Devi became the first woman at the Bargamaghachi camp to give birth at the newly established maternity hut. She also won a $250 cash prize for the first delivery at the maternity hut, announced by the Chief Minister of Bihar who inaugurated it a few days earlier.
This camp is home to over 600 families from six neighbouring villages. The overwhelming majority have been here for over a month now and they are waiting for the waters to recede to go back to their homes.
“The surety that my wife was in good hands was already a plus point, but winning the prize money was a real blessing,” says Pankaj who cannot mask the pleasure on his face.
Although six other women have had their babies delivered at this camp, and have not been as fortunate to receive as big a cash award, they are indeed blessed to be attended by a doctor and also receive a smaller cash incentive from the Janani Suraksha Yojana. Another 76 pregnant women have also received ante-natal care at this camp, including counselling, TT vaccinations, and Iron Folic tablets.
“I wasn’t as scared as my earlier deliveries at home with just the midwife and neighbours,” says 26-year-old Manju Devi, who also delivered her third child at the maternity hut and says she was much more relaxed this time.
The maternal mortality rate for Bihar is among the highest in the country with 371 deaths for every 100,000 live births compared to 301 nationally. And only 34.1 per cent of pregnant women in the entire state receive any form of ante-natal care.
Sita Devi (left) and Manju Devi had their children at the maternity hut provided by UNICEF.
The fact that a large majority of the population is unschooled and therefore more susceptible to superstitions and taboos makes it more urgent for pregnant women to receive maternal care.
“Considering the low rates of ante-natal care that pregnant women in Bihar have access to, we were very concerned about how that would be further impacted during the floods,” says Dr. Sherin Varkey, UNICEF’s project officer for health in Bihar.
In collaboration with the Department of Health, the maternity hut has four Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs), four paramedics and three doctors on rotation.
Electricity is being provided by an onsite generator and the maternity hut has all the basic amenities, equipment and furniture.
“Our facility is very well maintained and we have all the supplies that we need to ensure that the deliveries are safe,” says Shakuntala Devi, an ANM who has assisted in three births, referring to the beds, delivery kits, sanitary sheets, towels, medicines and other equipment.
The maternity hut also has an out-patient department where the health workers provide medication for everything from diarrhoea to skin infections, which are the most common. More than 1161 patients have been treated at this particular camp alone.
Till date, five maternity huts have been set up in 3 districts, and UNICEF and the Health Department are working to ensure that 20 maternity huts are in place within the next two weeks.
“UNICEF is doing all that it can to ensure that these services are available – because being able to deliver in a hygienic environment, and attended by a skilled birth attendant could mean the difference between life and death for both the mother and the child,” says Bijay Rajbhandari, UNICEF’s representative in Bihar.
These maternity tents are supplemented by the more than 250 Mobile Health Teams that are currently in the 20 districts. These teams also provide antenatal care services to pregnant women, in addition to vaccinating children against polio and measles, and attending to any other medical emergencies.