By Padmini Copparapu
Ballari, Karnataka, 29 September 2015 – Twenty-four-year-old Haseena sits with her newborn child outside the Special Newborn Care Unit (SNCU) at the Vijayanagar Institute of Medical Sciences (VIMS) in Ballari, a small mineral-rich city in the Southern India state of Karnataka.
“I had my first baby when I was 16. There was nobody to help and he died wihin the first few hours. I had a daughter afterwards and she’s doing alright. The delivery of my third baby was complicated and this is why I’m here, but I know he will survive,” says 24-year-old mother, Haseena, with cautious optimism
Haseena delivered prematurely in July, two months before her expected date. The baby suffered birth asphyxia and intestinal problems, and had to undergo two surgeries before he started to recover. After almost a month of intensive care, today, he’s healthy enough to be breastfed by his mother.
Success stories such as Haseena’s have become common throughout the district over the past few months. The VIMS unit has become the hope and refuge for hundreds of mothers whose babies are born with severe complications.
The scenario before
A year ago, it was an entirely different story at Vijayanagar Institute of Medical Sciences. The government hospital was shouldering the load of not only Ballari but other five neighbouring districts (Raichur, Koppal, Chitradurga, Kurnool and Anantapur).
“With a 12 bedded unit and inadequate equipment, we were treating over 150 neonates a month. We felt we were not doing justice to anyone,” recalls Dr Riyaz Ahmed, in-charge of the Special Newborn Care Unit.
By the end of last year, with an acute paucity of manpower, resources, equipment and infrastructure, combined with an ever-rising footfall, the situation had become increasingly dire.
A story of change
This scenario changed when UNICEF engaged in a partnership with JSW Foundation, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) wing of the Indian steel conglomerate —Jindal Group — already engaged in women and child development projects in Ballari. JSW agreed to sponsor and execute the transformation of the newborn care unit with the technical assistance of UNICEF. All this was manned and hosted by VIMS and supported by the district administration of Ballari and the National Health Mission that bore the recurring costs of the unit and deployed staff.
In a remarkable feat of efficiency and innovation, the 12 bedded unit was transformed into a 32 bedded fully equipped facility with inborn and outborn spaces replete with warmers, phototherapy units, pulse oxymeters, ventilators and all — perhaps the largest state-of-the-art newborn unit of any government hospital in the State within a record time of 45 days.
“We are now providing excellent facilities, around-the-clock care and quality treatment that even private hospitals can’t hope to match. Since they’re all free of cost, we are able to reach those who need it the most. Even the nurses are working overtime. Now, we are also able to accept cases that would be earlier considered hopeless and turn them around in no time,” says Dr. Riyaz Ahmed.
“In the next five years, we want to turn this into a 300+ bed and make it a renowned destination for mother and child care,” says Director of VIMS, Dr V Srinivas.
The Ballari SNCU is an apt model of how Public Private Partnerships (PPP) can help to transform an existing facility into a state-of-the-art newborn care unit with quality infrastructure and effective delivery of services in a record turn-around time.
Dr. Kedar, who heads the JSW Foundation, has a word of advice: “We should seek to supplement and complement existing government structures, not substitute them. This is where CSR can come in and bridge the gaps,” he concludes.