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India’s pink army: Bringing healthcare to doorsteps of deprived

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NRHM

By Bhavana Akella 

Bengaluru, Nov 1 : In a country where quality healthcare remains a privilege of the rich and influential, a silent army of women, clad in pink sarees, work tirelessly and selflessly to make basic healthcare facilities accessible to those who live on the margins of the growing Indian economy, particularly in the country’s vast rural hinterland.

Barely getting time to sleep as calls for help keep coming round the clock, this pink army — as they are popularly known — is the backbone of the primary healthcare in India’s 600,000 villages, providing a connect between the community and the inadequate public health system. These are the trained female community health activists — called Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) — under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) of the Indian government.

Instrumental in bringing down the infant mortality rate from over 50 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 (when ASHA was launched) to 34 deaths in 2016, these women provide information to people in rural areas about health, sanitation and nutrition; conduct ante-natal and post-natal checkups; assist women during their deliveries, deliver polio vaccines and conduct health surveys.

With many of them mothers themselves, they often take along their children to the clinics at unearthly hours because they can’t leave them behind at home.

Clad in the trademark pink saree, her work uniform, state health worker Godavari Anil Rathore, 23, a resident of Kalaburgi, Karnataka, about 623 km north of state capital Bengaluru, is one of the youngest employed as an ASHA.

“When I was a kid, I remember how my aunt had a baby and lost it just within two months. The baby had contracted malaria after she was born, and my aunt couldn’t bear the pain,” Rathore told IANS.

“It’s an unimaginable pain not to be able to save your own baby, which is one of the reasons why I decided I should help women,” she said.

Rathore has helped over 100 women in her district in delivering healthy babies over the last three years that she has been working as an ASHA.

“It makes me extremely happy looking at women living in the remotest parts of the country with not much money to focus on their health giving birth to healthy children.

“Even though it means that we work an average of 12 hours each day, taking health surveys, carrying out polio drives, assisting pregnant women from the district I live in — right from medical checkups during pregnancy, to the delivery, then getting the baby all the vaccinations, and in the end receiving only about Rs 1,500 for a month.”

Rathore said that every woman she works with “becomes family to me, even if they need me at 3 a. m., I’m there.”

For many Indian villages where hospitals aren’t accessible easily, 860,000 ASHAs across the country (according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2014) are the only ray of hope in providing medical assistance to thousands of people, and have been working extensively on eliminating polio and malnutrition among infants.

Making sacrifices every day to build a healthier society, these women find it hard to even make ends meet, earning a paltry sum for their services. Over 15,000 ASHAs from Karnataka staged a protest last month at Freedom Park in the heart of the city for a better remuneration from the state so that they could live with dignity.

Rathore, like many other ASHAs, barely sleeps, as calls for help keep coming in from pregnant women round the clock, after a long day of delivering polio vaccines or conducting health surveys. Many a time, she can’t leave her two-year-old girl, Lakshmi, behind at home and takes her along.

“Sometimes, I feel I’m raising my child within clinics with my husband not being at home all the time. But I am glad she’s growing up learning to be empathetic, knowing that as humans we must be able to help one another without any hesitation,” said Rathore with a smile.

ASHAs take pride that they’ve managed to get their communities talking about health and hygiene.

“We are overwhelmed to see people in villages pay attention to sanitation and building their toilets and purifying their water, which they earlier didn’t care much for. These are very important when we talk about health,” Rathore explained.

With every right to quit their difficult job, the women say they continue on because the power to be a part of the birth of a healthy life is unparalleled.

Geetha B, 31, from Ballari district, has been an ASHA for nine years now. A mother of two boys, she takes the responsibility of overseeing the health needs of over 1,500 people in Hariginadone village in Ballari district seriously.

“My vision is always towards making the village a better place. I would have assisted at least 300 women in these nine years in their pregnancies and now I see the kids going to school within the village, children I would have helped while growing up to be healthy. It fills me with happiness each time.”

“Pregnancy comes with a hope for every family. Our job satisfaction comes from seeing their dreams come true, in helping India’s next generation grow up healthy.”

A mother of five children, 35-year-old Nagomi K. from Raichur district, about 400 km to the north of Bengaluru, has seen ASHAs help in transforming the villages in the district over the past 12 years that they have been working.

“In many villages, the women are blamed if something happens to the baby. They have to live with guilt that it was their fault that the baby was born prematurely,” Nagomi told IANS.

With their constant visits to the villagers’ homes for checkups, men also tend to learn from them about their wives’ health, which doesn’t happen in healthcare centres, where the men are just asked to wait in the waiting rooms, she said.

“Even though many don’t recognise the work we do, we are trying to act as bridges involving both man and a woman when it comes to a pregnancy, and having villagers lead better lives in general with better health.”

“A lot of times I assist women who cannot even afford a strip of medicine. That’s when I give them whatever money I have so that the health of the community is never compromised,” Nagomi said.

As Karnataka State ASHA Workers’ Association Secretary D. Nagalakshmi puts it, “These women are the lifelines for our country in letting those who cannot access medical help get every kind of support. They must be credited with raising a majority of India’s next generation.”

Each of the 37,000 ASHAs in Karnataka are working despite severe hardships and have some moving stories to tell, but they don’t hesitate to make any sacrifice in building a healthier country, she said.

India ranks 131 among 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) 2016 released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). India was placed behind countries like Gabon (109), Egypt (111), Indonesia (113), South Africa (119) and Iraq (121) among others. The government is working towards improving this rating by creating competition between states to perform better on key social indicators like infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate and life expectancy.

IANS

Health

Breastfeeding secrets every mom should know

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Breastfeeding

New Delhi, Jan 23: Breastfeeding seems to be a most natural process, but to some, it may be a challenge. Be patient and feed often, say experts.

Mimansa Malhotra (PT), Lactation Consultant and Lamaze child birth educator on behalf of Philips, and Shilpi Srivastava, Lactation Consultant at Mamma Mia, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, list some tips to keep in mind:

* Try to nurse within the first hour after delivery. That’s when your breast produces colostrum, or first milk. It is packed with nutrients in a small amount. And a small amount is just what a newborn needs.

* Feed often to increase supply. The rule is simple. The lesser you nurse, the lesser milk your body will produce. Ensure you are eating well and getting enough rest. You will need both as your body converts your calories to milk.

* Ensure that when your baby is latched, his/her mouth should take in as much of the dark part of your breast, the areola, as possible. The baby squeezes the milk ducts beneath that area to draw the breast milk out. If your baby is only sucking on the nipple, it will pinch and hurt you. Also, the baby won’t be able to get as much milk.

* Don’t be in a hurry to offer the second breast. It is perfectly alright to leave your baby on the first breast until he/she comes off on his/her own and then offer the second breast. Many babies take one breast at some feedings and both breasts at some. Don’t be rigid and don’t be scared.

* As the experts say breastfeeding is a learning process in which both the counterparts are learning, hence it needs a lot of patience and it may take a few days to weeks to master it.

* During the first week, the baby seems hungry all the time as the baby is trying to cope with the new environment and frequent breast feeds will not only help him in adjusting but also help your body to make more milk to meet baby’s demand.

* Breastfeeding is easier with the right help. It is always advisable to seek help from an expert if you are facing difficulty in breastfeeding, because getting the right help at the right time will make lot of difference to your breastfeeding experience.

* Breastfeeding is an art. Lactation consultant or the healthcare provider will guide you about the technique of latching and holding the baby to make breastfeeding more comfortable for you and for your baby.

* Breastfeeding helps in bonding. It promotes skin to skin contact and lets you spend a lot of time with your new born, helping in understanding his cues and requirements.

IANS

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Why mothers’ response to baby’s babbling is important

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New York, Jan 21: Do not stop your little ones when they are babbling. According to new research, babies tend to listen to mothers’ verbal languages that further helps them in learning language skills.

Babies organise mothers’ verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction and infant babbling is the key, the research said.

Published in the journal Developmental Science, the study maintained that babies modify their sounds to become more speech-like in response to feedback from their caregivers and that they learn things have names by caregivers naming objects.

Researchers recorded and recombined the vocalisations of 40 nine-month-olds and their mothers, using a “playback paradigm”, to assess how specific forms of sounds and actions by infants influenced parental behaviour.

“We expected that mothers would respond more often when babbling was more mature and they did. The increased rate of response meant more language-learning opportunities for the baby,” said Michael Goldstein, Associate Professor of Psychology at Cornell University.

“The mothers’ speech was also more likely to contain simplified, learnable information about linguistic structure and the objects around the baby. Thus, by varying the form and context of their vocalisations, infants influence maternal behaviour and create social interactions that facilitate learning,” Goldstein said.

The researchers also found that mothers responded more often and more informatively to vocalisations directed at objects than those that were undirected.

“We suspected this would be the case because the object the baby is looking at creates an opportunity for the mother to label it, so she’s more likely to respond with specific information than when a baby is babbling at nothing,” said Rachel Albert, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Lebanon Valley College.

“These results contribute to a growing understanding of the role of social feedback in infant vocal learning, which stands in contrast to the historical view of prelinguistic vocalisations in which babbling was assumed to be motor practice, with no function in the development of communication and language,” Albert added.

IANS

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Medical tourism in India on rise

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India Tourism has been seeing a year on year growth; there has been an increase in domestic travellers as well as foreigners travelling to India. India also attracts patients from several countries for Medical treatments.

Medical tourism or health and wellness tourism refers to the industry where people from across the world travel to other countries to get medical, dental or surgical care and at the same time visit local attractions of that country.

Out of the total Medical tourism across globe approximately 63% is shared between Singapore, Thailand and India with Singapore and Thailand being the leaders in the field.

India has seen a regular growth in Medical tourism traveller’s and from 2013 -2016, the medical visas issued annually has grown from 1.22 lacs to 1.78 lacs.

Following are some of the reasons why people choose India for their treatment:

– World Class facilities and services available in India
– Good qualified doctors
– Cost (Some of the major surgeries in India cost 10-20% of the cost incurred in Western Countries)
– No waiting period for treatments

Some challenges which need to be addressed for patients choosing India as preferred Medical tourism hub

– Improve perception on hygiene and service across the globe
– Ensure quality and service
– Step down facilities for Post Surgical care for recovery. India lacks in centers that can take care of recovery needs post treatments and the patient has to spend more days at a hospital.
– Medical Visa – Procedure to obtain medical visa needs simplification as it can get quite cumbersome as per current regulations

Based on statistics released by the government, Delhi, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are the top destinations for visitors travelling for Medical tourism. Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi have the large number of quality hospitals and take the maximum share of the pie as of today. These cities have a several hospitals to choose from and offer good connectivity across the globe.

Medical tourism or health and wellness tourism can be divided in to 2 different types:

Curative: This is where the traveller’s come in for specific treatments, a few of the preferred treatments are listed below:

Cardiac Surgeries including bypass surgeries

Knee / Hip Replacement surgeries

Orthopedic surgeries

Cosmetic surgeries

Ophthalmology

Rejuvenation: Traveller’s want to explore the ancient treatments and traditional medicines offered in India and hence they come to India, a few are listed below

Ayurveda
Yoga
Siddha
Yunani
Naturopathy

Considering that we can excel in various parameters catering to medical tourism, our country has tremendous potential to increase our share in the Medical Tourism segment.

Jay Kantawala, Founder of WIYO Travel says, “Medical tourism in India has been seeing a year on year growth in the past decade and is expected to grow 2 ½ times in the coming 8-10 years and become a US$ 1.6 Billion market in coming decade. This industry will get a boost if Visa process is simplified and simple cross border payments. In addition to this we are seeing Health care institutions opting for certifications for NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers) and JCI (Joint Commission International) accreditations, which help in building trust amongst travelers”.

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