If children are the future of a country, mothers have the most important jobs on their hands and they need to be fit and healthy themselves. After decades of struggle and denial, India has now something to show for its maternal health. Since 2013, India has seen a drastic 22% reduction in Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR). This means nearly 1,000 fewer women are now dying of pregnancy-related complications each month.
India has shown a drastic improvement in preventing deaths at childbirth but awareness and facilities are in short supply in rural areas still, says Vani Kumar.
While the situation has improved tremendously, we still have a long way to go to ensure safe motherhood, where women receive high-quality care in order to achieve the optimum level of health for themselves and their infants.
One of the major reasons for this drastic change in the MMR, according to Dr Ajay Khera, deputy commissioner, child health, health ministry, is that “Almost 80% of women are now giving birth in hospitals, both public and private. If you look at decade-old numbers, the percentage was just about 40%.”
However, despite the efforts made by the government and the medical fraternity, India still sees a huge gap in MMR when it comes to rural India and backward pockets.
This is primarily attributable to the following reasons:
• India is experiencing a shortage of formal medical professionals in government hospitals, which leads to women heavily relying on informal healthcare workers who are not as well educated, skilled and equipped to take care of the delivery process.
• Due to the shortage of formal healthcare professionals in rural areas, the health of the mother post-delivery is not monitored professionally. Even if they get through the delivery, mothers end up losing their lives due to infection or excessive bleeding post childbirth.
• Ill-equipped hospitals with untrained medical staff are almost a rule than exception in rural areas. Many times the women are diagnosed with the complications very late either due to lack of medical facilities or due to irresponsible behaviour on the part of health- workers.
According to Dr Pavitra Mohan, CEO at Amrit Clinics, “A woman’s health becomes the focus only around childbirth but we need to take into account a woman’s whole life cycle.” He emphasises that the poor MMR in rural areas is also influenced by a woman’s social status and what is expected of her from a very early stage of her life. He adds, “Many young girls and young adults are pushed to work in the labour market early on. Coupled with early marriage, this not only perpetuates the cycle of malnutrition and ill health but also puts these families at a high risk of maternal and infant deaths.”
While the socio-economic status of women in India is changing, it still has miles to go in rural India, where mothers are seen as nurturers and expected to accommodate everybody’s needs before their own.
The future of Maternal health
Government’s Budget 2019-20 plans to focus on nutrition, maternal health and child protection.
• The the budget of the Ministry of Women and Child Development reflects a nearly 20 % (Rs. 4,856 crore) hike over 2018-19. The allocation is Rs 29,165 crores for 2019-20.
• Funds for the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana for supporting pregnant mothers have been more than doubled from Rs. 1,200 crores (2018-19) to Rs. 2,500 crores (2019-20).
• To convert these funds into facilities, the government has created several schemes and other initiatives for making available respectful maternity care.
• For working mothers-to-be, the government has gone a step ahead and increased maternity leave to 26 weeks so that the post-birth health of both the mother as well as the child is not compromised.
• Emphasising the Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram initiative, which aims to secure women and children during childbirth and bring down the number of casualties motivate women to deliver at government institutional facilities instead of their homes. India’s dream of providing safe motherhood might just be getting there.