With a large number of people migrating to cities, the health of the poor in urban areas has gained importance

One of the Millennium Development Goals that India is trying to achieve is reduced maternal, neonatal and infant mortality rates. It is quite a tough task for a country where the MMR, NMR and IMR are still in triple or double-digit figures. It is not that all of India is performing poorly. States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu have done well in bringing down the IMR, largely due to their health programmes.

Until now, the focus had been on rural women but with large populations migrating to cities and living in abject poverty, the spotlight is shifting to the health of the poor in the XII Five Year Plan. A programme to address the needs of residents of urban slums is on the anvil.

Suburban villages have grown to become towns but residents do not have access to clean drinking water, sanitation and waste disposal. And, the aim of the XII FYP would be to improve the life of people in these areas, according to Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, Member of Planning Commission, who was in Chennai recently to launch a centre of perinatology excellence at Sri Ramachandra University (SCOPE).

SCOPE provides the important link between the tertiary care centre and the primary or middle-level healthcare facility. Dr. Sayeda’s concern found echo when I heard Senthamizharasi’s story. She was seven months pregnant with her second child when her doctor in the DAE-run Hospital in Kalpakkam atomic power plant referred her to Ramachandra hospital in Porur. Here, she delivered her baby nine weeks ahead of term. But she returned home in health. There were scores of healthy children and their parents at the inauguration.

SCOPE’s director Dharmapuri Vidyasagar, who sets store by low-cost interventions, says mothers are being taught to care for their infants using the Kangaroo-care technique, where the mother learns to keep the baby warm by holding it against her body as much as possible.

Dr. Sayeda, who attributed SCOPE’s achievement to skilled intervention, said under the XII Plan, the government proposes to train indigenous doctors and community workers in villages to impart health education and assist in spreading information about the government’s various health schemes such as universal vaccination. The government had come up with this proposal as these untrained healthcare professionals are sought-after in rural and tribal areas where doctors refuse to work. There are around four lakh “local doctors” whose skills could be developed and by “increasing the knowledge and providing deeper understanding of healthcare,” to the village women, they would be able to take care of the community.

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R. SujathaJune 28, 2012

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