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Saving mothers, saving families in West Bengal
" Kakoli Chowdhury (centre) at a meeting of women’s Self Help Groups in Bulbulchandi. "

By Priyanka Khanna

July 31, Bulbulchandi (West Bengal): “She saved a mother and child from dying today itself!” is how Kakoli Chowdhury, a petite, soft-spoken woman was described to me during routine field monitoring.

As the 25-year-old Kakoli blushed at the sudden attention, her neighbours narrated how she had gone out of her way to convince the husband of a pregnant woman who was bleeding to seek timely medical help.

In the morning of the same day I met her, Kakoli had come to know that Sabita Roy, one of the pregnant women she had met while doing a survey for UNICEF, was in excruciating pain.

Sabita was nearly nine months into her pregnancy and the 18-year-old panicked when she started bleeding. She remembered that Kakoli had advised her to go to hospital for delivery and asked a neighbour to fetch her.

When Kakoli reached, she immediately realised that Sabita and her child were in danger. She nearly had to force Sabita’s husband -- Babua -- to take her to a doctor. Babua gave in and took Sabita to a health centre where she was referred to Malda District Hospital, some 100-kms away. According to the doctors, Sabita reached hospital just in time.

Sabita was only a hair’s breath from becoming another addition to the long list of maternal deaths in a country where every five minutes a women dies from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Kakoli who is member of a women’s micro-credit group called -- Self Help Group – insisted that Sabita be taken to hospital after she learnt the importance of institutional deliveries at an UNICEF-supported workshop funded by DFID.

She was told the do’s and don’ts at the orientation. Her local elected village council leader, Pradhan, was also part of the workshop. He asked groups like Kakoli’s Self Help Group to conduct a survey in the village that would help in understanding the condition of mothers and the difficulties they face. She came to know pregnant women in her area while conducting the survey, knowledge that came in handy while saving Sabita and her child.

Thousands of women like Kakoli and Sabita as well as hundreds of political leaders, administrators, practicing midwives (some who have never received any training) and even media persons are getting sensitised about good practices for saving mothers from dying under UNICEF’s DFID-funded Maternal Mortality Reduction Advocacy project in the state.

India, where 136,000 women die of pregnancy-related complications each year, accounts for 20 per cent of the global maternal and child deaths. In the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, which is hailed as largely egalitarian, the situation was expected to be far better. Though the state’s Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) of 266 deaths per 100,000 live births is lower than the national average of 407, it is below that in best performing states.

A key impact of UNICEF’s work in the state is the setting up of a core cell within the Panchayat and Rural Development Department (P&RD), the nodal agency of all village councils in the state.

Dr. Pankaj Mehta, Officer-In-Charge, UNICEF Office of West Bengal, said: “The P&RD is on its way to scale up interventions to all districts from the initial six districts identified by UNICEF. We are also conducting maternal death inquiries in Purulia district to ascertain the medical, and socioeconomic causes and take action to put an end to so many highly-avoidable deaths.”

Other initiatives include working with the State’s Women’s Commission to sensitise elected state, he said. It is hoped the initiatives help save more women like Sabita because mothers make our world and saving a mother means saving a family.

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