Empowering pregnant women: Meet Chhattisgarh’s ‘Mobile wale doctor’

Mobile phones are one of the most used devices in current times and their effects – positive or negative – completely depend on how we use them. Read about a doctor from Chhattisgarh who ensured a change for the better with the help of mobile phones.

To have a safe delivery is every woman’s right but in many parts of the country, it still remains a challenge. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) -5, while the maternal mortality ratio has reduced, the situation is still not favourable for women. It has also been seen that antenatal care statistics have improved. According to one survey, the situation has improved for 70 per cent women but for the remaining 30 per cent, a lot is yet to be done. There are also government programmes in this regard, including, Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan under which all pregnant women are provided with (in the second and third trimester) quality antenatal care on the ninth of every month. Initiatives are also being taken by people in private capacity at various levels to ensure safe motherhood, and it is pertinent to mention one such programme from the state of Chhattisgarh. Dr Ganesh Babu, a doctor at a primary health care centre in the state, is using mobile phones as an incentive to provide timely healthcare to pregnant women in the rural areas. He is known as the ‘Mobile wale Doctor’.

Deliveries at home was the norm

doctor ganesh

When Dr Babu took charge at the primary health care centre at Barsur in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada five years ago, he was disappointed with the low turnout of pregnant women at the centre for delivery. When he spoke to the local women about it, Dr Babu came to learn that in most cases, the expecting mothers could not reach the hospital because of lack of basic facilities, such as bad roads, lack of bridges to cross rivers, etc. As a result, they had no other option but to get their babies delivered at home.

“Our primary health care centre caters to patients from more than 20 villages. Barsur is located in Dantewada district which is inhabited by several tribal groups. In most areas, public transportation is in a bad shape and is non-functional after 6 in the evening. People have no other option but to walk. The district hospital is located around 35 kilometres away and it becomes very difficult for people to go there. This is all the more a reason why they are more dependent on our centre. Some villages are around 20 kilometres away from our health centre and some are located in the opposite direction of the Indravati river. People living in those areas particularly find it difficult to reach our centre,” Dr Babu said. 

Distributing mobile phones & bearing the expenses

It is very important for a doctor to ensure that his/her patients get the basic facilities and Dr Babu also wants the same because he feels every woman deserves a right to safe motherhood. To ensure this, he thought out a way to address the realistic problems. The way was the mobile phone, one of the best means of communication in today’s times.

With an aim to have uninterrupted communication with women in distant villages in times of emergency, the health officials started providing mobile phones to them, bearing all the expenses themselves.

The initiative started showing positive results soon. According to Dr Babu, “Three years ago, only seven to eight deliveries used to happen in a month at the centre. Today, an average of 25-30 deliveries are done in a month. In April 2022, 40 cases of delivery were registered.”

Women moving towards empowerment

In a way, this has been a step towards women’s electronic empowerment and they have become more techno-friendly. It has been possible to raise awareness among women on various health-related issues through the use of mobile phones and SMSes (short message services). Women, especially from India’s rural areas, have been successful in connecting with officials of recognised social health services, such as ASHA, so that they could get useful information and proper child-delivery care.

It is because of the step that he has taken that Dr Babu has become known as ‘Mobile Wale Doctor’ or the doctor with mobile. “Women stay in touch with community health volunteers or ‘Mitanins’ through mobile phones. If any patient feels unwell, the social volunteers are contacted. They not only provide support during child delivery but also educate the new mothers about their newborns’ vaccination. I provide them with a basic mobile phone which costs around Rs 1,000 and help those women volunteers who cater to the pregnant women with around Rs 500 so that they fully take care of the patients. The women stay in touch with the ‘Mitanins’ at any time of the day through mobile phones and in case of emergency, we get the information quickly and quickly arrange for an ambulance,” Dr Babu said.

He also said that the government has set up a pre-birth room at the primary health centre where they encourage pregnant women from distant places to stay for three-four days prior to their delivery. “We take care of the women and their families in terms of food and accommodation till the patient gets discharged. This has helped in reducing the instances of child delivery at home. There are cases where women die because of excessive bleeding while giving birth at home. Some also get diseases such as anaemia for life because of bleeding,” Dr Babu said. 

An example set by the doctor

Ajay Sarkar, who works at Barsur public health centre, said, “Earlier, emergency cases were referred to Dantewada district hospital which is far from here. After Dr Babu came, there has been a significant change in the functioning of the outpatient department (OPD) and the number of patients there has increased by far. Nowadays, we daily treat around 80-90 patients in the OPD. Dr Babu is available at the centre for 24 hours and he even sleeps here. He has also not taken the doctors’ quarters. He stays in a room at the centre and attends patients at night as well.”

No praise is enough for Dr Babu who has taken a step himself to overcome the challenge of lack of basic healthcare facilities. Aiming for a positive change, he has taken up the responsibility to keep women and their families safe. Dr Babu is an example for the entire society as he has shown that no challenge is big enough if one has an iron will.

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