This post is part of our series, Global Conversations on Newborn Health in India. Join the conversation on Impatient Optimists and Healthy Newborn Network as we explore the pressing need—and what our partners are doing to address the need—to save the lives of newborns in India.
The challenge of infant mortality in India cannot be tackled by government alone.
While the Government of India has drafted numerous policies, programmes, and schemes to improve care for mothers and newborns, critical gaps in the implementation of these initiatives remain. Given the scale of India’s bureaucracy, it is a huge challenge indeed to ensure that the money, people, and resources allocated in national and state level planning documents actually make it to the district, then to the block, and ultimately to the women and children of India who are in critical need of care.
This is where civil society comes in.
By ‘civil society’ I am referring not only to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) but also to academic institutions, religious communities, private sector organizations, the media, and community based organizations. One of the most critical roles that we as civil society must play in response to the challenge of India’s newborn health situation is to strengthen accountability for the delivery of government services.
How do we do that?
A core strategy of NGOs like Save the Children is to work directly with communities, empowering them with the knowledge and skills they need to hold the government to account.
For example, under the National Rural Health Mission there is a provision to establish Village Health and Sanitation Committees (VHSCs) consisting of Panchayat (local governance) leaders, self help group leaders, frontline health workers, and other community members. These groups are tasked with monitoring the health needs of their communities, registering maternal and neonatal deaths, tracking the performance of frontline health workers and submitting a health service delivery report card to higher authorities.
The unfortunate reality is that while VHSCs exist on paper, very few are functional on the ground. Consequently, a key role of NGOs is to form and build the capacity of these groups to carry out their critical monitoring function and empower them to demand a government response when they identify gaps in services.
A second important strategy for enhancing accountability within the health system and for newborn care programmes specifically is to engage India’s diverse and vibrant media scene—sensitizing journalists and media leaders to the key issues surrounding newborn care, providing them with quality information, and partnering with them to raise public awareness about gaps in government services, and to apply pressure on decision makers to address those gaps.
Media can be an incredibly powerful tool for bringing the stories and voices of the poorest and most marginalized into the public sphere and in front of policy makers.
But mobilizing communities to demand services and raising awareness through the media on India’s newborn situation is not enough. The Government of India also needs the technical support of civil society to improve implementation of newborn care programmes in order to effectively respond to the demands from its citizens. This process requires rigorous research, documentation of best practices, evidence consolidation, consensus building, and the presentation of clear recommendations and action steps to the government.
Gaining Civil Society's Support
In November 2010, Save the Children India held a national level Newborn and Child Survival Technical Advisory Group (TAG) consultation attended by 125 government, civil society, and UN representatives from across India in order to help identify priorities and set our strategic agenda in newborn and child survival until 2016.
Owing to the wide-ranging participation of so many major players within public health in India, Save the Children was invited by the National Government’s Planning Commission, Health and Family Welfare Division, to present the consultation’s recommendations to members of the Planning Commission, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Building on the partnerships and momentum generated by the consultation, Save the Children India is now spearheading the formation of a national maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) coalition to serve as a platform to foster ongoing partnership, information sharing, evidence consolidation, and consensus building on priority recommendations for the government to strengthen policies, resources and implementation surrounding MNCH interventions.
We are confident that by working in partnership with both communities, civil society and the government, we create an India in which every woman and every child has access to the care they need to achieve the highest possible standard of health.
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The Healthy Newborn Network Blog provides timely information and insights from the global newborn health field and seeks to promote dialogue on important newborn health issues. The blog is a platform for the HNN Editors and guest contributors to post commentaries on current happenings in the newborn health field. The content of each post and comments expressed on the HNN blog are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views and opinion of the HNN or its Partner Organizations. >>Read a note on leaving comments
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