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In These Troubled Times, The Tough Get Going

These Poshan Champions use a simple instrument, the cellphone, to help pregnant and lactating women
Namita Wadhwa | Jun 14, 2020

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc all over. It has not only led to millions of people suffering due to loss of jobs and livelihood, but has severely hampered our economy, and has also restricted our movements. We all know that. We all have felt that. But life is continuing.

People are dying in large numbers due to acute hunger and poverty, which have become much more severe due to the pandemic. Everyday babies are born. Young girls into women, and then they subsequently attain their motherhood. Experiences are changing, and challenges are increasing every day. During these times, when we are asked to stop and refrain, maintaining a proper communication has now become a grave challenge. So what steps do we take to ensure that the communication does not stop, and the connection is not broken? We speak, we talk, and let know that we are there to help, to listen and to inform. We connect. We simply reach out.

Recently, several women have stepped forward to address maternal health and child nutrition amid the pandemic, which poses a major threat to both the mother and her child’s health. Around 70 poshan champions working in Udaipur, as part of the RajPusht program of IPE Global, are currently reaching out to 30,000 Pregnant and lactating women along with their family members, only with a phone call.

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One poshan champion, on an average, is connecting to at least 20 women every day. These women are actively participating in educating the women of their respective communities on taking proper care of themselves and their children in these distressed times. Having worked with them for the last 7-8 months, they are aware of the challenges, the context specific to the area, and most importantly ‘the individual story’. They speak with them in their local dialect, and help them understand the present situation because of COVID-19, and also show them the path to stay safe and keep themselves healthy.

Having been properly trained on several aspects of maternal and child nutrition, the poshan champions guide these women and their family members on how to keep the mother and child healthy.

The whole exercise is also instrumental in keeping the communities connected to the frontline workers. By introducing themselves saying something like, "Hello, my name is Manju, and I got yourdetails from your village anganwadi didi (elder sister)", they ensure that a trust is between the beneficiaries and their service providers.

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What Is The Success Rate?

An immediate eye-opener has been the accessibility and reach of women when it comes to mobile phones. Non-availability of mobile phones to the women workers was one of the major hurdles that was anticipated by the team.

Several discussions were held on persuading the family members to allow the champions to talk to women directly. In nearly 80% calls done so far, women have been the first responders. Not only are they comfortable with conversing on the phone and receiving the necessary guidance, but are also open to sharing their concerns and feedbacks. Even in the remaining 20% cases, family members,mostly husbands, have positively accepted the idea. They have either communicated themselves, or have encouraged their wives and family members to do the same.

The feedback and insights received from the women and their families are crucial for immediate responders. This method is not only helpful in increasing the accountability of the service providers, but is also helpful in connecting with individual beneficiaries on priority basis based on the feedback from the champions. Informative insights are being derived from the communication and shared with the frontline workers, which provide answers to some of the crucial questions such as:

·Are the households receiving take home ration service?

·Are pregnant women facing any challenge in regular health check-ups and monitoring?

·Is the supply-chain intact with women receiving IFA and calcium tablets?

·How is the preparedness level of women due to deliver any time now?

·Are women able to receive and utilise the benefits of Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana?

·What is the level of awareness on infant and child feeding practices, especially amongst first- time mothers, more so when regular home based counselling is interrupted?

This is just the beginning. As the new normal is shifting, so will the engagement rules and medium. We have started simple, and are constantly striving to make sure that the chords are tight and the communication is continuous. Layering of messages and support will continue on this firm yet simple connection.

(The author is the team leader of Rajpusht, Socio-Economic Empowerment, IPE Global.)