International Women’s Day Special: Celebrate The Work Of Women Swasth Warriors Who Are Making India HealthyInternational Women’s Day: Despite the huge challenges that India faces on the health front, here are some heroes who are working relentlessly to make India a swasth country

New Delhi: According to Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2019′ report, India is a country where 194.4 million people are undernourished. The report also states that a whopping 51.4 per cent of women in reproductive age between 15 to 49 years in the country are anaemic. As per UNICEF, a third of India’s women in the reproductive age are undernourished , with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5 kg/m2. BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy. Why is it a problem? According to experts and studies undernourished mothers inevitably give birth to undernourished babies, perpetuating an inter-generational cycle of undernutrition.

As per the recently published Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2019, India has been ranked 102 out of the qualifying 117 countries that were assessed. The GHI has stated that India’s rating this year has been poor with a score of 30.3 which according to their guidelines, falls in ‘serious’ category. Even India’s neighbouring countries, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh have secured a better rank than India. While Nepal’s is ranked 73, Bangladesh and Pakistan are ranked 88 and 94 respectively.

Not just that, National Health Profile-2019 (NHP-2019), a comprehensive report highlighting India’s current health status, states that non-communicable diseases in our country such as cardiovascular diseases and other lifestyle-related diseases are on a rise. Given the huge challenges that India faces on the health front, here are some heroes who are working relentlessly to make India a swasth country.

On this International Women’s Day we take a look at the work of such women swasth warriors.

‘Only Healthy Mothers Can Produce Healthy Offspring,’ With This Mantra Nisha Choubisa Is Working In Rajasthan’s Village Majawada

35-year-old Nisha Choubisa with her family

35-year-old Nisha Choubisa earlier worked as a teacher in a private school, teaching Science and English to children studying in 6th to 8th grade. After she delivered her two sons – Dhruv and Krishna her focus shifted towards health and nutrition, she became more aware about the importance of nutrition among pregnant and lactating women. But outside her house, in her own village, things were very different. Pregnant women in her village carried forward the legacy of superstitious beliefs where a self-professed godmen are trusted more than doctors and age old beliefs in rituals and miracles hold greater sway than vaccinations for newborns. Expecting women also lack awareness and knowledge about what constitutes good nutrition.

So in 2018 Nisha decided to quit and work as an Aganwadi worker because she felt that her village needed her more.

Nisha at her Anganwadi teaching women about healthy living

Talking about her journey as an Anganwadi worker, Nisha told NDTV,

In my village, lactating mothers did not know what they should eat or drink. Pregnant women were forbidden by their parents and in-laws when it came to intake of dairy or oily food among other such restrictions, as apparently it would result in baby getting stuck in the womb! Basic dairy products which are rich source of iron, calcium and protein like curd, milk, were not even found in their homes. Vaccination for children was not considered very important. I wanted to help change all this, change the mentality of my village women; I wanted them to believe in practicality and not in any kind of myths. So, when I joined as an Accredited Social Health Activist or ASHA worker, I got the chance to have one-on-one interaction with people to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do in their condition, as per medical professionals’ advice.

On a daily basis, Nisha covers 10-15 houses to personally engage with the families and explain the importance of nutrition to pregnant women and lactating mothers and educate them to use the health facilities. She lives by the mantra that only healthy mothers can produce a healthy offspring. Because of her continuous efforts, Majawada village today is seeing a different reality. Her village has seen a decrease in home births and an increase in hospital births, moreover, women of the village are more aware about nutrition and good health. According to the data recorded in Pregnancy, Child Tracking and Health Services Management System, an online web based system used as a planning and management tool by Rajasthan’s Medical, Health & Family Welfare department, before January 2018, when Nisha joined, the village was struggling with the Antenatal care (ANC) registrations, as women and their in-laws would be reluctant to get themselves registered. For the last six months, the village has been observing 100 per cent registrations.

For her efforts as an Anganwadi worker helping new-borns and pregnant women, Nisha also won a Nutrition Warrior award at the Outlook Poshan Awards 2019.

Read More About Nisha’s Work

From Having No Access To Sanitary Napkins As A Teen, To Now Distributing It For Free, Story Of Mumbai’s Padwoman

From Having No Access To Sanitary Napkins As A Teen, To Now Distributing It For Free, Story Of Mumbai’s Padwoman
Dipti who didn’t have access to sanitary napkins now distribute it for free every month to over 500 women

At the age of 10, Dipti Kashalkar got her first period. Like most of the girls in India, when she started menstruating; her mother simply handed her a cloth pad to use because they couldn’t afford to use a sanitary pad.

I come from a very conservative and financially unstable family therefore when I started menstruating; my mother simply handed me a cloth. For six years straight, I GOT accustomed to a cloth pad which led to various infections, hormonal imbalance which further gave me mood swings, fatigue and what not. I had dozens of unanswered questions related to menstruation but every time I would raise my voice, my mother would shut me up, remembers Dipti Kashalkar.

Also Read: Busting Myths About Menstruation Redefined This Young Lady’s Mission In Life

Her own childhood experience as a girl, made Dipti join Upasana Society, an NGO dedicated to creating menstrual hygiene awareness in India. She along with her husband Saurabh Kashalkar started taking menstruation awareness workshops in tribal belts of Maharashtra. From an interactive session, with presentations informing both genders – be it boys or girls about sanitary napkins, the duo today does it all to make menstruation a topic of discussion among the general public.

Apart from education, the NGO also builds on a supply for sanitary napkins via donations and once they have six months supply of pads or funds to procure them they distribute it for free to the women, depending on a location in which they are catering at that point of time.

Dipti Kashalkar has also started a parallel initiative – Chained Musafirs, a group of bikers riding for social cause to reach more and more people. Till date, Dipti has conducted around 17 workshops outside Maharashtra in Kerala, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. Currently, she and her team are trying to introduce tribal girls and women to menstrual cups, an eco-friendly alternative to sanitary napkins.

From Having No Access To Sanitary Napkins As A Teen, To Now Distributing It For Free, Story Of Mumbai’s Padwoman
Dipti leading Chain Musafirs, riding for a social cause

Read More About Dipti Kashalkar

Mangala Ramkrishna Vidhale From Maharashtra’s Melghat Region Fought Malnutrition Like A Champion

Melghat region comprises two blocks Dharni and Chikhaldhara, this region once was infamous for the highest numbers of malnutrition and infant mortality cases. But today the same region’s fate has taken a turn for the better. Thanks to an ASHA worker – Mangala Ramkrishna Vidhale who took the pledge to address both the issues in her village and bring ABOUT a positive change. Mangala undertook various activities – from going door-to-door to guide people about good nutrition for both expecting mothers and babies to organising rallies, community programmes to train people, she did it all. Apart from all this, Mangala guided her community people about maintaining a good hygienic environment so that both the mother and the newborn baby have a healthy surrounding to live in.

Also Read: Swasth Guide: A-Z About Malnutrition And What It Entails

Mangala also helped women of her community realise about all the myths related to pregnancy and malnutrition and guided them to raise a healthy newborn. She motivated the community people so much that today Melghat region organiSes festivals that are focused on mother and newborn nutrition, breastfeeding, to name a few.

Monalisa Padhee Came Back From Australia Only To Address Health Crisis In Indian Villages

Monalisa Padhee, born and brought up in Sambalpur, Odisha, graduated in biotechnology, after which she moved to Australia for higher studies. During her Ph.D. there, Monalisa got a chance to work on a project on the mother’s nutrition and its impact during pregnancy and diseases in babies. This one project made Monalisa decide to return to India and work on a rural development fellowship. In India, Monalisa decided to join as a volunteer in Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan and since then there has been no looking back. Remembering her journey, Monalisa added,

During my time on the fields in India, I realised that health issues in villages is a huge problem. I realised many women do not even know about the basics of breastfeeding their newborns and why it is so important. Everyone was surrounded by all sorts of myths and that disheartened me to the core and I decided to never look back and instead help these women out by educating them.

International Women’s Day Special: Celebrate The Work Of Women Swasth Warriors Who Are Making India Healthy
31-year-old Monalisa Padhee

Also Read: ‘The Mantra Is To Add As Many Colours Of Food As Possible In Your Diet,’ Says Expert

What started in 2016 as a mere volunteer ship tuned into a journey where she is leading a group of trainers who are helping to educate rural women from 12 states on nutrition, menstrual hygiene management, and overall women’s health.

Today, Monalisa and her team spread awareness using simple, practical and interactive tools to improve dietary practices in rural India. In addition, they try to ensure the timely and correct diagnosis of anaemia among women. Monalisa adds,

Our approach is simple, we want to train every woman of India so that they become nutrition champions within their communities and in return make healthy societies.

International Women’s Day Special: Celebrate The Work Of Women Swasth Warriors Who Are Making India Healthy
Since 2016, Monalisa and her team have trained over 250 over from 12 states

Read More About Monalisa Padhee

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