07/03/2019, 16.15
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NGO launches ‘Adopt a slum’ project in Varanasi to keep mothers and children alive

Some 55 families benefit from the programme in the Musahar slum. A mix of stereotypes, superstition and marginalisation have prevented pregnant women from getting medical care. The community relied on witchdoctors performing rituals for a fee. Nurses are now back and no one dies from lack of hygiene, notes Lenin Raghuvanshi.


New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Jan Mitra Nyas, a non-profit organisation, working with the Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), a Varanasi-based NGO dedicated to the poor and Dalits, has sought to reduce infant mortality, improve the child survival rate and provide medical care to pregnant women through a plan to adopt a slum, starting with the Anei Musahar basti, the Musahar slum in the village of Anei.

The programme is designed to break “the culture of silence” that surrounds people who live in slums, PVCHR executive director Lenin Raghuvanshi told AsiaNews. The Musahar slum is home to “55 families and 295 people,” said Raghuvanshi, a medical doctor and activist.

It started in October 2016 with the support of Child Rights and You (CRY). Since then, it has launched a “Kitchen Garden pilot project supported by High Commission of New Zealand and now this process received support from Parul Sharma and 200 Swedish donors”.

Thanks to various partnerships, a number of projects have been implemented combining health care and human rehabilitation.

For mainstream society, slum dwellers are invisible. Patriarchy has favoured the development of obsolete traditions and superstitions that have little concern for women's well-being. Children and teen-agers have not been educated or made aware of their rights.

When a woman found out she was pregnant, the slum community would bring her to the ojha, a sort of witchdoctor who blessed mother and the unborn child to protect both from future evils. His services were not free though: every month he was paid a 200 rupees fee (US$ 2.90), alcohol (daru) and a chicken (murga).

At childbirth, the soothsayer would perform a ritual (gadthant) at midnight to prevent premature deaths for a fee of 2,000 to 5,000 rupees (US$ 29-72). However, magical rituals did not prevent deaths, caused by the lack of prenatal diagnostic and vaccinations.

What is more, auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs) never visit ghettoes, only upper caste areas.

Overall, a mixture of stereotypes, superstition, and lack of trust in public health programmes have made it almost impossible to perform medical services for mothers and children in slums.

With the slum project, 18 of 23 pregnant women were taken to the primary health centre in Badagaon, whilst the other five delivered at home.

Mothers started breastfeeding their children, whereas before they did not realise the importance of mother’s milk and only gave water.

“We found severe malnutrition in this village,” said Lenin Raghuvanshi. But through the slum project the “knowledge, attitude and practices of different stakeholders” were changed.

Now there are irrigation pumps, health camps and nurses are back vaccinating. “Now there is no infant mortality or maternal mortality.”

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