BIHAR, India, 24 October 2007 – Sita Devi was the first woman to give birth at the newly established facility known as the ‘maternity hut’ at the Bargamaghachi camp in Samastipur. For over a month, Bargamaghachi has been home to more than 600 families from six villages as they wait for the floodwaters to recede so they can return to their homes.
In a unique initiative to ensure that pregnant women have access to proper medical care during that time, UNICEF and the Government of Bihar set up a maternity facility to provide care for expectant mothers.
As the first new mother in the camp, Sita was awarded $250 by the Chief Minister of Bihar, Janani Suraksha Yojana.
“It is already a blessing that my wife was in good hands during delivery. The $250 was a most fortunate surprise,” said Sita’s husband.
Floods' impact on maternal mortality
Since the opening of the ‘maternity hut’, six other women have had their babies delivered at the Bargamaghachi camp, where they have received professional care and cash incentives for using the facility. Another 76 pregnant women have also received antenatal care, including counselling, vaccinations, and vitamin and mineral supplements.
“I wasn’t as scared as my earlier deliveries at home with just the midwife and neighbours. I was much more relaxed this time,” said Manju Devi, 26, who delivered her third child at the maternity hut.
The maternal mortality rate for Bihar is among the highest in the country, with 371 deaths for every 100,000 live births. Only 34.1 per cent of pregnant women in the entire state receive any form of antenatal care.
“The population is susceptible to superstitions and taboos, which makes it even more urgent for pregnant women to receive maternal care,” noted UNICEF project officer Dr. Sherin Varkey. “Considering the low rates of antenatal care in Bihar, we were very concerned about how they would be further impacted during the floods.”
Relief for outpatients
Each maternity hut is staffed with four auxiliary nurse midwives, four paramedics and three doctors, and equipped with basic medical equipment and furniture. Electricity is provided by an onsite generator
“Our facility is very well maintained. We have all the supplies that are needed to ensure safe deliveries,” said auxiliary midwife Shakuntala Devi, who has assisted three births.
The maternity hut also has an outpatient department where health workers offer diagnoses and prescribe medications for everything ranging from diarrhoea to skin infections, which are common during floods. More than 1,160 patients have been treated at this camp alone.
“Being able to deliver in a hygienic environment, attended by a skilled birth attendant, could mean the difference between life and death for both the mother and the child,” said UNICEF Representative in Bihar Bijay Rajbhandari.