Sister Puspha knows all about it. She works in the village of Lundra (Chhattisgarh), where she coordinates the activities of the Raigarh-Ambikapur Health Association (RAHA), a Catholic primary care centre for pregnant women and children in the Archdiocese of Ambikapur.
“We provide our services to women and children without discrimination of religion or caste. All we do is take care of them,” she told AsiaNews.
“We operate 93 primary health centres in the remote tribal areas of the districts of Jaspur, Raigarh, Surguja and Korea, providing nursing and medical care,” she added.
RAHA was created to address the curse of child mortality. In 1995, it joined the ICDS programme and persevered despite attempts of discrimination by Hindu organisations.
In 2006, it was temporarily excluded from the ICDS because of pressure from local leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Sister Emilina is also involved with RAHA in Lundra. She said, “We are saddened by the statistics. India takes giant steps in the global world and achieves success in space, but the poor in rural and tribal areas cannot get any basic health care.”
Traditional practices mixed with superstitions explain the high rate of child mortality. The nuns working at RAHA explain that in many villages newborns are not fed right away because mothers wait three days after delivery.
At the same time, “many women suffer from malnutrition and anaemia during pregnancy and so children are born underweight, having respiratory problems, with pneumonia and diarrhoea,” Sister Puspha said.
Her association teaches “mothers the basic methods of childcare, vaccination and basic notions of hygiene.”
The nuns’ work is a cultural as well as a social challenge because they face a complex reality that is greater than the simple delivery of medical care.
“In these remote villages, pregnant women do not have the time to come for regular check-ups,” Sister Puspha said. “They are burdened by house work as well as small paid jobs. Taking time out to take care of themselves and their health is a luxury.”