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Missing the right angle

| | in Oped

There is proof that things on the ground are changing and the results of Modi’s policies are bearing fruit. It’s time for the Congress to review its strategy of shoot-and-scoot

One of the favourite pastimes of the Congress, from block level worker to party President, is to criticise Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rather than focusing on their own strategies and offering an alternative to voters, the Congress spends considerable energy on criticizing the Government. Naturally, it looks the other way when some substantial facts stare it in the eyes, and plays wishy-washy. This past week, even as global institutions including the Unicef United Nations Children's Fund  (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) were lauding India's feat of substantially bringing down its Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), Congress and its partners chose best to ignore this. How could they laud anything to do with Modi anyway.

First some bare facts, for the records. The MMR — number of maternal deaths per 1,00,000 live births — has declined from 167 in 2011-2013 to 130 in 2014-2016 or almost by 22 per cent as per the Sample Registration System (SRS) bulletin. Put simply, on an average, we are saving 37 precious lives per lakh pregnant women. This is the result of a growing confidence in the ability of the otherwise decadent public healthcare system to deliver. That the public healthcare system is delivering better than in the past is borne by the fact that more women are opting for institutional deliveries — meaning going to government hospitals & healthcare centers. In over a decade, this has gone up almost three times — from 18 per cent in 2005 to 52 per cent in 2016. Advisors to the Congress Party could have suggested a tweet from the Party President thanking Prime Minister Modi for continuing the ‘good work’ of their  Government. In political terms, it would be hara-kiri.

And especially if one were to look a little deeper into the data, according to the SRS Bulletin, it is in the Empowered Action Group (EAG) States comprising of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Assam that the decline in MMR has been most significant — from 246 to 188. Call it a coincidence or a matter of fact, all these states, barring Odisha are ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and there is also a subtle political message in it. In the Southern States, the decline has been from 93 to 77 and in other states from 115 to 93.

In fact, Assam which has been notorious for its very poor MMR, has made significant gains. However, the state Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, it is just a step forward and a lot needs to be done. He said, “Despite recent exponential progress of Assam on Maternal Mortality Rate and Infant Mortality rate, these rates continue to be high in our State. In this regard, as a targeted approach, six Medical Colleges were critically reviewed for maternal and child deaths in the presence of the Heads of the Department of Obstetrics and Pediatrics, their nodal officers for Sick Newborn Care Units (SNCU/NICU), Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), Labour Rooms, High Dependency Units (HDU) along with the Medical Superintendents and Principals. The extensive review included issues related to performance of the departments, gaps in infrastructure, status of equipment, human resource constraints, status of training of all cadres, infection control practices, maintenance of the case records, availability of drugs and consumables and particularly skills/capacity of the service providers. Individual feedback was provided and the timelines has been set to address the gaps and report the progress.” In fact, this review was meticulously planned by deploying external monitors from District Hospitals and UNICEF to each of the medical colleges to conduct a thorough assessment with pre-defined checklists, so that systematic feedback is available for review.

At the national level, the decline is attributed to a host of strategic interventions. The Union Health & Family Welfare Ministry issued a statement: “The results signify that the strategic approach of the Ministry has started yielding dividends and the efforts of focusing on low performing states is paying off, especially initiatives like Mission Indradhanush and Intensified Mission Indradhanush with their focused approach are significantly turning the tide in favour of India.” Other major initiatives under the umbrella of National Health Mission (NHM) like augmentation of infrastructure and human resources, capacity building, Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram which provides for free transport and care for pregnant women have also contributed to the success, it said.

Lauding India's success, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Poonam Khetrapal Singh said that India has made a concerted push to increase access to quality maternal health services with the coverage of essential maternal health services having doubled since 2005. “Campaigns such as the Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan have been introduced with great impact, allowing women access to antenatal check-ups, obstetric gynecologists and to track high-risk pregnancies, exactly what is needed to make further gains and achieve the SDG targets,” Singh said.

The MMR decline is a definitive proof that things on the ground are changing, and it is time for the Congress to seriously review its strategy of shoot-and-scoot. Else, it will boomerang sooner than it anticipates.

(The writer is a strategic communications professional)

 
 
 
 
 
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