Health is one of the most pressing issues facing community members in the villages where MSS works, particularly in the case of children. Issues include poor sanitation, lack of hygiene awareness, unsafe drinking water, early marriage and pregnancy, poor nutrition, low rates of immunisation, delays in treatment and the widespread practice of home births from unskilled traditional birth attendants. MSS works to tackle these issues by focusing on key projects that can make a lasting difference.
Mother and Child Immunisation
Despite the low cost and high effectiveness of immunising mothers and children against common diseases, the number of non-immunised individuals remains worryingly high. MSS has worked hard to ensure that as many mothers and children as possible have been immunised. This has been done through a combination of organising immunisation days in villages and raising awareness of local people on the importance of ensuring that mothers and children are immunised against common diseases. Children are immunised against tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles, while mothers are immunised against tetanus.
Additionally, regular meetings are held with the family members of pregnant women on the importance of immunisation. During these meetings there is often strong resistance towards immunisation, particularly from more elderly community members who were never immunised themselves. However, this is gradually changing and there is an understanding that new generations of children have been stronger and healthier and that this is linked to higher immunisation rates.
Child malnutrition in southern Rajasthan is a cause for great concern. A 2014 study published in Epidemiology Biostatistics and Public Health, found that approximately 69 percent of children were moderately to severely underweight and 41.3 percent were severely underweight for their age. MSS’s interventions on child malnutrition have focused on a combination of treatment, training and advocacy work.
Working with Integrated Child Development Services programme, a government-sponsored programme, MSS has supported the construction of over 20 new Anganwadi centres in our working area. These centres focus on providing health support to mothers and children, particularly in terms of child hunger and malnutrition. MSS has provided advice to parents on how to feed children healthy and nutritious food, along with the nutritional aspects of certain food types. Children suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) are referred to the Malnutrition Treatment Centre in Udaipur.
Improving Local Healthcare Services
One of the major issues in the provision of healthcare is the poor quality of services at the local level. Though there are good services available in places like Udaipur, this is too far for most people to get to without a great deal of difficulty. Instead, most people have to rely on village or Panchayat-level services, which are often of poor quality and are regularly not available at all.
As a large number of new births continue to happen at home, MSS has provided training to Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) whilst simultaneously encouraging mothers to give birth in hospital instead. Additionally, MSS have worked to ensure that village-level health workers are regularly available and that all positions are filled.
Finally, MSS has worked to link children and adults with social security schemes under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The organisation has helped families in project villages to access the benefits of Janani Suraksha Yojana, a safe motherhood programme that aims to reduce maternal and neo-natal mortality by promoting institutional delivery amongst poor pregnant women through providing financial assistance. The MSS team also assists widows, old age pensioners and people with disabilities to access government pension schemes.
Registration of Births and Deaths
There is little understanding of the importance of registering new births and deaths. Without registering births, children may be unable to access education later in life, or prove their identity or nationality. Furthermore, the importance of birth certificates is linked with the large number of home births that are still taking place. Home births are normally undertaken in unsanitary locations without trained birth attendants, meaning that mortality rates of both infants and mothers are considerably higher than in hospitals. By ensuring that community members understand the importance of birth certificates, they are more likely to give birth in hospitals where the provision of certificates is compulsory.
Cultivation of Medicinal Plants
With the support of local communities, MSS has developed herbal orchards known as Dharam Bagichi in project villages containing rare and endangered species of medicinal plants. MSS promotes the use of herbal medicines in order to encourage the use of locally available medicines and to create new livelihood options in the village.
MSS regularly celebrates World Health Day, World Breast Feeding Week, Nutrition Week, World AIDS Day and International Women’s Day in local communities. This helps to raise awareness on these issues and build essential knowledge on the rights of women and children.