Long Queues, Lack Of Doctors: Pregnant Women Struggle To Get Antenatal Check-Ups

Nearly 44,000 mothers die every year in the country while giving birth, as per government data.

New Delhi: Thirty-year-old Punam gave birth to her fourth child at home in a slum in northeast Delhi last month. Punam works as a domestic help and her husband has a temporary job at a factory. During her pregnancy, she did not meet a doctor or underwent antenatal checkups.

She had told her neighbours that she had no time to visit the nearby government hospital as she was busy with work and taking care of her children at home. The couple did not have money to go to a private doctor.

Like Punam, nearly 80 per cent of pregnant women in the country do not undergo full antenatal check-ups, making detection of high risk pregnancies difficult. Women say they find it difficult to meet with the doctors.

According to Sunita, a health worker in Uttar Pradesh, there is a shortage of doctors at the hospitals.  She said, “The long queues and crowd will not be an issue if some more doctors are appointed. Sometimes the doctors fail to show up and patients have to return disappointed.”

Nearly 44,000 mothers die every year in the country while giving birth, many of them due to preventable causes like anaemia and hypertension. Nearly 6.6 lakh infants die within 28 days of birth due to pregnancy related complications, according to government data.

In November 2016, the government launched Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan that promises to provide antenatal check-ups in a campaign mode across the nation. Under the campaign, the 9th of every month will be a fixed day for comprehensive and quality antenatal care service at government health facilities. This will be in addition to existing services on other days.

The check-ups will be conducted by a physician or gynaecologist. With a shortfall of doctors at government facilities, the campaign is inviting doctors from the private sector to provide voluntary services on that day. It’s a nationwide call to mobilise private doctors who are available at the district and block level.

UNICEF representative to India, Louis-Georges Arsenault, said, “Often we have a competition between the private sector and the public sector. I think this is an opportunity for the private and the public to work better together and strengthen the quality of public services with the input of the private sector.”

However, the lack of doctors in the health system is one of the many challenges of providing quality maternal health care in India’s pursuit to achieve the 2030 targets of Sustainable Development Goals.