A quiet revolution saving rural children’s lives (Aug 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week)

July 31st, 2011 - 4:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh), July 31 (IANS) Eleven months ago, Rudra was born as a severely underweight infant in a remote village called Semrod in Jhabua, a predominantly tribal and one of the most backward districts of country with around 47 percent of its population living below poverty line.

Rudra weighed less than two kg at the time of his birth and the family was skeptical about his survival, even as they prayed for his well being. His mother Anita was worried and didn’t know what to do. The elders in the family were pressing to give the child some herbs diluted in water or milk, as was the tradition in their village.

But Anita’s sister Kala Jaani, a local Anganwari worker, opposed this ‘recipe’ for the new born, who was already struggling to survive. She convinced Anita to breastfeed the child within an hour of his birth.

Anita decided to follow Kala’s instructions on timely initiation of breastfeeding.

Mother’s milk was the only feed for Rudra during the first six months of his life. Anita didn’t even give him water. Rudra’s health and weight started improving singinificantly. On completion of first six months, Anita started giving him some soft-mashed food items as prescribed by Kala, apart from continuing to breastfeed him.

Today, Rudra is one of the healthiest children of his village. He weighs a healthy 8.2 kg and is out of the underweight category at Kala’s Anganwari centre register.

But more importantly, he has become an example to the women of the village, convincing them to do away with superstitions and breastfeed their infants.

Kala, in fact, has been on the forefront of this campaign to convince mothers to breastfeed their newborns within an hour of birth, give the child only mother’s milk for the first six months and continue breastfeeding for atleast the first two years of the baby’s life.

“There is a marked difference in our village now among the children who have been exclusively breastfed and those who haven’t,” Kala told IANS.

“It was hard to convince people initially to understand the importance of breastfeeding, especially the village elders. But with time and sustained efforts, they have realised the importance, perhaps,” she added.

According to Tania Goldner, chief of the Unicef office for Madhya Pradesh, breastfeeding and complementary feeding are simple and proven interventions which can reduce child mortality rates by upto 19 percent.

She adds that Unicef advocates initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and timely introduction of nutritionally adequate, safe and age-appropriate complementary feeding to give a much needed and healthy start to an infant’s life.

The result of such simple interventions is visible in Semrod village, where one can see healthy, energetic children playing with each other everyday. And the Angawari worker is in the forefront of the quiet revolution saving their lives.

After an initial training, Kala now has the knowledge and skills to work with mothers and families, and is fully committed to her community and their future — the children.

(Sandeep Pouranik can be reached at sandeep.p@ians.in)

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