When Rehana Khatun went into labour with her 4th child she was alone. Her husband was working in Dubai at the time, and as migrants, none of her family members were available to help her. She immediately called up Akhtari Begam, the leader of the local Mother Support Group in Rafi Nagar, to ask for help.
Akhtari responded to the emergency and helped Rehana get through labour, which was fraught with complications. She was unable to get a bed in one maternity hospital and Akhtari helped her get admission in another maternity home. She remained with Rehana throughout and provided support.
Akhtari, a 3 time mother herself, leads the Rafi Nagar Mother Support Group. She is just one of 385 women, all volunteers, who facilitate Mother Support Groups — guiding and supporting local women through their pregnancies, births and postpartum phases. These volunteers have successfully reduced the previously high incidence of maternal and child mortality, and helped mitigate risks during the crucial periods of child growth and development.
“We help the mothers in the community with not only pregnancy related health issues but other health issues as well. It is vital that both pregnant and lactating mothers take proper care of themselves and their babies, to ensure optimum health of the child. We give them advice and accompany them to the hospital if they want us to,” says Akhtari Begam.
In 2014, Apnalaya decided to form Mother Support Groups with the belief that, in order to tackle the issues of the community, the people of the community have to take the lead. As such, the women who lead these groups are mothers themselves, and Apnalaya provides support, guidance and training, on such vital issues as the importance of institutional delivery, immunisation, child malnutrition and overall maternal health.
Group members are selected from each lane in the Apnalaya intervention area, with group leaders reporting to Apnalaya Field Assistants on the progress of their group. Leaders are typically women who are extremely active in the area, and have a high level of influence within the community. Groups meet every month, and also attend trainings every month
“There has been a considerable change in the community; the people in the community know the importance of mother and child health and nutrition. They are also aware of the government schemes available to them; they know where the health posts are. Additionally, the people in the community know to turn to MSG members now. These women are the eyes and ears for us in the community, if there are any larger problems they refer them to us and then we help them as much as we can. Most importantly, other than just having leaders from the political side, we now have community leaders who know the problems of the people and advocate for the same,” said Sunita Choure, Senior Programme Manager, Health and Disability.
And the programme is seeing tangible results and impact. Since 2014, there has been only one maternal death in 2016 in the 401 live births that have taken place in our area of intervention. Comparatively, data released by the BMC, according to a Times of India report, showed that 1.5 lakh deliveries were registered in the city in 2018, and 218 women died during pregnancy or six weeks after it – which means the city’s Maternal Mortality Rate now stands at 144, much higher than the state (61) and national averages (130). This is also due to the fact that institutional deliveries have increased in our intervention areas – from 71% in 2010 to 98% in 2018.