This Mother’s Day, Make It Count For Maternal Health In India

Posted: May 9, 2014

Even as celebrate Mother’s Day with flowers and cards, the state of maternal health in India is appalling. This Mother’s Day, can we pledge to support mothers?

“Any report on the state of the world’s mothers is by definition a report on the state of the world, full stop.” (Melinda Gates, in her Foreword to the State of the World’s Mothers 2013 )

So begins the Foreword to the 2013 edition of the annual State of the World’s Mothers report published by Save the Children. Just a small sample of statistics from the Executive Summary (PDF) of the report:

  • “Every year, 287,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth, and 6.9 million children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Almost all these deaths occur in developing countries where mothers, children and newborns lack access to basic health care. While child mortality rates have declined in recent decades, 19,000 mothers still mourn the loss of a child each and every day – an unthinkable number of heartbreaks.” (Carolyn Miles, President and CEO, Save the Children.)
  • “Every day, 800 women die during pregnancy or childbirth and 8,000 newborn babies die during their first month of life.” (Page 5, Executive Summary)
  • And India, where we like to say we worship the mother-goddess, “has more maternal deaths than any other country in the world (56,000 per year).” (page 9, Executive Summary, State of the World’s Mothers 2013)

And look at where South Asia stands, with China and Singapore as comparison points:

maternal-health-survey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The report makes five recommendations to ameliorate this situation:

  1. Address the underlying causes of newborn mortality, especially gender inequality.
  2. Invest in health workers – especially those working on the front lines – to reach the most vulnerable mothers and babies.”
  3. Invest in low-cost, low-tech solutions which health workers can use to save lives during pregnancy, at birth and immediately after birth.
  4. Strengthen health systems and address demand-related barriers to access and use of health services.
  5. Increase commitments and funding to save the lives of mothers and newborns.

But these need to be social priorities, our priorities. Even for women with access to decent health-care, there is always a chance that something can go wrong. What is the infrastructure for taking care of them at that point? The best of doctors cannot compensate for a shortage of ambulances, bad roads, interrupted power supply, shortage of blood in blood banks, and so on.

Most of us are not in a position to fix these big things. But all of us want mothers everywhere to have safe, healthy pregnancies and for babies everywhere to be healthy, well-nourished and safe.

Two years ago, I frantically searched for Indian organisations working in this area to one of which I could make a donation. In that moment of crisis, I could not find one, and so I made my donation to UNICEF.  In anticipation of this year’s Mother’s Day, I crowd-sourced and put together this list. Thanks go out to Pervin Sanghvi, Ingrid Srinath, Bharati Ramachandran, Ammu Joseph and Anindita Sengupta for making suggestions.

I should explain that I had simply asked on Twitter and Facebook if people knew of organizations doing work in the area of maternal and reproductive health, and these are the organizations whose names people thought of. I did not ask for recommendations of which organization they thought I should donate to. You should read through their websites and do your own checking on the things that matter to you. For instance, you might seek clarity on what they do; whether they are already very well-funded; whether one can access their reports; where they work. You might choose to support research and advocacy over service provision. Your call.

But my request to you is that you do spend this time, and if this issue speaks to you in some way, and if you were going to spend money on a Mother’s Day gift or treat anyway, you consider making a small donation to one of them as well (not instead!). You may think your budget is small but every little bit counts towards something—from staples for an office stapler to paying for one bottle of vitamins or whatever—everything will find a use.

You were already going to spend money on a saree or a lunch or flowers or jewellery. Why not show that gratitude and love in a way that will add up quickly? I plan to.

Organizations for maternal health

I have tried to find out and share some information about each, but it wasn’t always possible. Do add any other information in the comments section.


A reminder of why this has been an important concern to me: this blogpost on my two grandmothers. I cannot believe that the same health issues persist so many decades later.


via Meeta Sengupta on Twitter: Here is a calendar of many Mother’s Days observed around the world. If making a donation this weekend does not suit you, you can take your pick. It’s always an auspicious day to give.

Also, an article on the origins of this observance. It was intended as an opening for dialogue and peace, and we can make it that again.

This piece was originally published at Swarna’s blog on the occasion of Mother’s Day in 2013.

Pic credit: Blanka (Used under a CC license)

About the Author: Swarna Rajagopalan, a political analyst and consultant, is Managing Trustee of the Prajnya Trust, an organisation that works in the areas of peace, justice and security.

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