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Araku lifeline brings maternal deaths to zero

Swapna Majumdar, Araku Valley

Surrounded by dense forests, Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh's Visakhapatnam district is rich in biodiversity, but its people are poor. So remote are some of the tribal hamlets here that in 2011 they escaped the eye of the census.

As a result of this isolation, healthcare services do not reach people. Pregnant women cannot be taken to hospital for want of roads and transportation. The rates of maternal and infant mortality across the valley have always been depressingly high.

But signs of change are evident six years since Piramal Swasthya launched a programme called Asara to reduce maternal and neonatal deaths. Health workers have been monitoring families and telemedicine has provided access to physicians over long distances. The first results are very encouraging.

“No maternal deaths have been reported from 181 hard-to-reach hamlets in the Araku Valley since we began our programme,” says Vishal Phanse, CEO, Piramal Swasthya, the rural healthcare initiative of the Piramal Foundation.

“We went to Araku Valley to find the gaps in healthcare and plug them. We wanted to supplement the government’s efforts. To end maternal deaths, we were prepared to sit near villages, even with a palki, and rush the woman to hospital as soon as she was ready for childbirth,” he recalls with enthusiasm.

In 2011, maternal mortality in this region was 400 per 100,000 live births, nearly double the national average of 215 per 100,000 live births. Neonatal mortality was over 60 for every 1,000 live births. The national average, at that time, was around 44 per 1,000 live births.

Asara has reached out to 4,900 women over six years and helped facilitate safer childbirth. “Institutional deliveries increased from 18 percent in 2011 to 68 percent in 2017 in our project areas,” says Phanse.

Emboldened by this success Piramal Swasthya now plans to expand ...

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