“A 'neonatal death' is defined as a death during the first 28 days of life and globally, this period carries the highest risk of mortality, per day, than any other period during childhood. In 2014 in Farakka, West Bengal, the neonatal mortality rate was incredibly high - 43.85 out of every 1000 - compared to a national rate of 28.
Troubled, our health team began to investigate. It turned out a mere 32% of women were having 'institutional deliveries' - the rest were birthing at home with local midwives, Dai Maas. Deciding to promote the benefits of institutional delivery, we kickstarted the 'Sakhi' initiative, starting with just 10 local woman.
On completion of training in 2016, the Sakhi's were optimistic. But the situation in the field was difficult. They faced cultural taboos, resistance from husbands, and resentment from ASHA's/ANMs.
With so many challenges, we expected them to give up. Instead, they went the extra mile.
One Sakhi, Saira Bibi, convinced a woman having her 5th baby to go for hospital delivery. Despite huge resistence from the husband, Saira put herself on the line. 'Take me to the police if it goes wrong. I take full resonsibility.' She said.
One baby was born on the way to the hospital, and the driver turned to go back. But Sakhi Marang Beti Besra insisted on going to the hospital - to cut the umbilical cord, provide primary care and ensure baby and mother were safe.
Slowly the situation turned around. Transformed in fact.
In just 2.5years, the institutional delivery rate increased from 28.57 % to 85.07%, Infant Mortality fell from 39.47 to 24.3 and Neonatal Mortality fell from 43.85 to 27.77. Today we have lots of healthy, happy babies and mums!”
Vice President, Program Research & Monitoring
Ambuja Cement Foundation