EngenderHealth, a US-based group with operations worldwide, is training healthcare professionals in Karnataka in the area of fertility and contraception.
A Traci L Baird, president and Global CEO of the group, discovered her inclination for public health as a teenager. When she was 15, she worked as a peer educator. She eventually graduated in public health and specialised in health behaviour.
In Bengaluru to meet Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, Traci spoke about her work to Metrolife.
What brings you to Bengaluru?
We are working in India for the last couple of years, both at the central and state levels. We are committed to ensuring family planning services and reproductive health is at its highest order. This is my first visit to Karnataka after we collaborated with the government four months ago. After the collaboration, I see rapid progress in maternal health and reproductive health indicators.
What more needs to be done here?
Compared to other places I’ve worked in around the world, the quality of services is high in India. You can build beautiful facilities, have the highest calibre of doctors and nurses and the best technology, but if women don’t have the choice within the family to go for that service, then it won’t take off on a big level. We are here to make that difference.
Where in Karnataka do you have your presence?
We are present in 14 districts. This is the first phase and our scope is to percolate into the villages. We have trained 300 professionals who provide counselling services, including on IUD. We want to ensure women have access to these services by linking them with community health services.
How do you intend to work around the conventional beliefs about family planning methods?
It is about educating and giving couples and families the choices. Our service providers counsel newlyweds to make sure they know they have the choice to delay their first child together, and once the baby is born, they are told about the options and benefits of delaying their second child by three years. Our idea is not to convince them but to make them aware of the options. When women exercise their choices, fertility automatically balances out.
Are women here receptive to family planning education and reproductive care?
Women have clearly begun to make choices. I met one woman who thought IUD worked well for her, another didn’t find IUD that good, and turned to oral contraceptives. A woman I met felt comfortable taking the weekly oral pill. Each woman determines what family planning method works best for her and her family, based on the options available.
What is the primary difference between women opting for family planning methods here and in the West?
Women here are articulate about the choice they have made. In the US, women involve their families much less in their choices regarding family planning because they often see it as a right, like ‘my body, my choice’. Here, in India, women involve their families and husbands. Women here are very clear and satisfied with their choice.
Do you have similar projects running in other countries?
We have projects in other countries, including Ethiopia, which has a very large population for Africa. They have a wide range of family planning methods but there is an acute gap in knowledge both among married women and young women in relationships. Providing them with access is key.
After meeting CM...
According to Dr Rajkumar, Deputy Director, Woman and Child Health, Department of Health and Family Welfare Services, Govt of Karnataka, EngenderHealth has signed an agreement with the government and intends to tackle teenage pregnancies mainly in rural and semi-urban areas.
It describes itself as a “leading global women’s health organisation.” Its mission is to work towards a world “where sexual and reproductive rights are respected as human rights and women and girls have the freedom to reach their full potential.” The group works in 20 countries, and says it trains healthcare professionals and partners with governments to make high-quality family planning and sexual and reproductive health services available.
What is the funding?
According to Shumon Sengupta, Asia Regional Representative - EngenderHealth, EngenderHealth is putting in three million dollars on this project for three years. "Officials are planning to leverage government funding. The current project covers 60 hospitals across 14 districts in Karnataka," says Shumon.
What's the focus?
The focus of EngenderHealth’s work is on training transferring knowledge to the community. “We want the procedures to be baked into the public health system here,” Traci says.