Palnar, Chhattisgarh: Durga, 24, gave birth to her son last week in Balod, 60 km from the capital Raipur in Chhattisgarh. The baby, who was born prematurely, weighs a mere 1.2 kg, way below the normal birth weight of 2.5 kg.
To save her baby, she rushed him to a new-functioning Sick Newborn Care Unit, 60 km away at Durg hospital near Raipur where critical care to underweight babies is provided.
While Durga could do so, 24-year-old Somi, who lives in Maoist-dominated village of Palnar is not so lucky.
Somi’s one-year-old son Sandeep is underweight and has low blood levels. She walks 10 km to a makeshift clinic in the weekly bazaar for her baby’s weekly check-ups.
These clinics, set up by the district administration with the help of UNICEF, have helped the administration provide basic healthcare and immunisation services to at least 94 Maoist-hit villages.
The health camp in-charge advised Somi to take the baby to Durg hospital where they will get free treatment, but she remained reluctant and afraid.
Traveling that distance with a small child is a risky affair and the families fear facing backlash from Maoists if they routinely access the state-run hospitals.
In Chhattisgarh, for every 1,000 live births, 41 children die even before they turn one, a number that is much higher than the national average of 37.
To effectively counter the losses of lives, UNICEF and Ekam Foundation, in partnership with the state government, has set up 13 Sick Newborn Care units in 12 most vulnerable districts.
“In the Sick Newborn Care Units, we have facilities like oxygenation and feeding, essential for a pre-mature baby’s survival,” said Dr Rajnish Kant Malhotra, pediatrician at the Durg district hospital.
With these special units, the death rate of babies has come down, he said.
The biggest challenge, however, is to convince mothers living in the heart of Maoist violence to access healthcare facilities by creating an atmosphere of safety so that new mothers can fearlessly avail specialized treatment.