Slum women show the way, ensure safe pregnancies

Most women in slums deliver at home, with or without a skilled midwife or nurse. They risk bleeding to death during childbirth, something that can be easily prevented.

A 34 year-old unlettered Shazda Khatoon took upon herself to make sure no woman dies due to medical negligence in Zakhira slum in central Delhi.

With the help of an NGO, she got an opportunity to work as a ward assistant in Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital. Many women in her slum have now been following in her footsteps spreading awareness in jhuggis as community health volunteers.

For 11 years, Shazda has been working to meet the medical emergencies in the slum.
“A key way to spread the word is to ensure every woman has access to quality care throughout her pregnancy. When something goes wrong during labour or delivery, the presence of a skilled medical attendant can make the difference between life and death. Yet, many women, especially in our slums, still give birth without skilled assistance. This is the gap I wanted to close by being a health volunteer,” said Shazda.

She works as a compounder for a private clinic in the evening and a ward assistant in the hospital during the day to support her family of six.

“A decade ago, we couldn’t dream of having a fully furnished medical centre literally in the courtyard of our community. For an illiterate community like ours, working as a ward assistant and being a primary person of contact in case of any medical assistance is a huge thing,” said Shazda.

Gyanwati, a resident of a slum in Kalkaji, is also associated with the same NGO, Asha Society which has a presence in 60 city slums.

She lost her 18-month-old son to diarrhoea two years ago. Asha Society taught her how it could have been prevented.

“At that time, I pledged not to let another child die in my community. Today, I can say that no child has died under my watch since 2013 in my area,” said Gyanwati.

“I used to offer public classes at water pumps, queues at the grocer’s shop and wherever I got an opportunity to raise awareness among young mothers.”

For the last 27 years, Asha Society’s healthcare programme has been addressing these issues.
“The healthcare programme not only provides services but also empowers slum dwellers to act as agents of change in their communities. The work of empowerment means to mobilise the inhabitants to help them understand their rights and responsibilities. Thousands of women have been empowered and subsequently they have been able to transform entire communities,” said Dr Kiran Martin, founder of Asha Society.

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