11 March 2010
No wonder Kiran Rawat is especially proud of her baby boy, Keshav. She nearly lost him. But, thanks to the 'Mums Express', a project supported by UKaid from the Department for International Development, his life was saved.
Kiran, 27, lives in central India, 10km from the nearest hospital at Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh. When she gave birth to Kishav's older brother, Satin, the only way to get to hospital was on her father-in-law's tractor.
But when labour pains arrived before Keshav was born, Kiran was able to call on the Janani Express (Janani means 'mother' in Hindi), a specialist ambulance service which races pregnant mums in remote areas to hospital. And the Janani Express was a life-saver: there were complications at the birth and Keshav suffered from asphyxiation. But as Kirin was at the hospital in good time, her baby was placed in the new born care unit and after seven days made a full recovery.
The Janani Express is one of several initiatives to encourage women to have their children in hospital rather than at home, a major factor in safer births. The nationwide Safer Motherhoods Scheme, under India's National Rural Health Mission, is supported by UKaid, and in Shivpuri it is delivering results – with 17 Janani Express vehicles serving the Shivpuri district (a population of 1.4 million), the number of babies delivered under medical supervision has doubled in the last two years and infant mortality figures have dropped from 18% (2008) to 10% (2010).
Around the world, more than half a million women die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth almost all in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia because they don’t get the professional health care they need. And for every maternal death, there are another 20 women who suffer pregnancy-related complications that can cause lifelong disabilities.
But as Kiran’s story shows, change is here. UKaid is supporting major safe motherhood programmes with agencies such as the United Nations Population Fund and the World Health Organisation. In Pakistan DFID is supporting a new generation of midwives; in Malawi we’re helping train health professionals; in Nepal we’re backing an incentive scheme which is dramatically improving the number of women having their babies in hospital. In countries like these and many others, investment in safer motherhood is paying dividends – maternal mortality among poor communities is being reduced by increasing access to skilled attendants, emergency childbirth care and family planning services.
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