“Communities and countries and ultimately the world are only as strong as the health of their women.” –Michelle Obama, former first lady of the United States
Across all rural communities in India, access to high-quality health care is a significant challenge — especially for women. Prior to 2017, our adopted village Bhikamkor had one small government hospital that was staffed by just one part-time male physician. Because of conservative cultural norms, women in Bhikamkor do not feel comfortable seeking medical attention from male doctors, especially for menstrual and reproductive health problems. Often, women will only travel to a far-away hospital in the case of life-threatening illnesses or injuries.
The most pressing health problems in Bhikamkor include anemia, malnutrition, dental care and gynecological issues. Many health challenges in the village stem from poor health literacy, diets that are low in nutritional value, uneducated hygiene practices and inadequate sanitary facilities.
Women’s health in the village was found to be particularly affected by multiple pregnancies (often when mothers were just teenagers) and complicated childbirths. One in every four women who IPHD interviewed reported giving birth at home without the assistance of a health professional.
To address these health issues, IPHD launched the Health Program in 2015. The program aims to improve health literacy, hygiene practices and access to high-quality health care in the village.
IPHD opened the Saheli Health Clinic, Bhikamkor’s first and only female health center, in July 2017 to provide gender-specific health services for the village’s adolescent girls and women twice a month.
The Health Literacy Project employs health outreach workers who lead educational campaigns in the village, conduct health scans of community members and oversee operations at the Saheli Health Clinic.
The Menstrual Hygiene Project fights menstrual taboo and distributes sanitary pads to adolescent girls and women in need.
The Community Kitchen Garden, located in the backyard of the Saheli Community Center, hopes to address malnutrition and anemia in the village by giving women the seeds and space to grow nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.