Al­most ev­ery­one in Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Gad­hchi­roli dis­trict would know where Ban­gubai's dawakhana is. The Maa Dan­tesh­wari Dawakhana in Dhanora (Gad­hchi­roli) is a land­mark in this naxal-in­fested area, and Gan­gubai is none other than Dr. Rani Bang, a Pad­mashree awardee and Co-Founder, Search. Dr. Bang, a gy­nae­col­o­gist, along with her hus­band, Dr. Ab­hay Bang, a physi­cian, has been pro­vid­ing health­care to women and chil­dren for over three decades.

The cou­ple, alumni of John Hop­kins Univer­sity, gave up lu­cra­tive job of­fers from US hos­pi­tals to serve peo­ple in one of the poor­est dis­tricts of In­dia. "We were al­ways clear that we wanted to be in the com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment space and among the poor­est of the poor." The Bang duo not only picked up health and so­cial is­sues that im­pacted com­mu­ni­ties, they also did in-depth re­search, com­ing up with so­lu­tions that could be repli­cated in other ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Be­sides, to bring about a change in the com­mu­nity, Bang re­alised she needed to be­long there. There­fore, in­stead of fight­ing against tra­di­tional health­care givers, she em­pow­ered them by get­ting them to adopt mod­ern meth­ods of med­i­cal care.

One of Bang's ear­li­est cru­sades was against malaria. "The vil­lagers blindly be­lieved tra­di­tional health­care givers. When we talked to them, they ad­mit­ted they were not able to treat malaria. So, we not only trained them to give im­me­di­ate care, we also got them to ex­plain to vil­lagers that the breed­ing ground for malaria mos­qui­toes was stag­nant dirty wa­ter and how im­por­tant it was to keep sur­round­ings clean.”

Pop­u­la­tion ex­plo­sion is a big con­cern in In­dia. As the gov­ern­ment’s pri­mary fo­cus is to con­trol pop­u­la­tion, its na­tional pro­gramme for ma­ter­nal and child health tends to fo­cus on fam­ily plan­ning and not on health per se. Ac­cord­ing to Bang’s study, over 90 per cent of women in ru­ral ar­eas have gy­nae­co­log­i­cal is­sues and in­fant mor­tal­ity is ram­pant. In Gad­hchi­roli it­self, the in­fant mor­tal­ity rate a decade ago was 120/1,000. "I told the au­thor­i­ties that we must fo­cus on women and child re­pro­duc­tive health. This study not only changed the gov­ern­ment's health pol­icy but also had an im­pact all over the world. No­body says ma­ter­nal, the term used is 're­pro­duc­tive health'." And, to en­sure that both wo­man and in­fant get the best pos­si­ble care, Bang em­pow­ered tra­di­tional birth givers. She learnt the meth­ods of im­part­ing non-for­mal ed­u­ca­tion and trained as many as 125 birth givers. "We re­alised that 30 per cent of chil­dren's deaths un­der five were be­cause of pneu­mo­nia. There­fore, we trained tra­di­tional birth givers to di­ag­nose and at­tend to pneu­mo­nia. Eighty five per cent of their di­ag­no­sis matched with that of trained pae­di­a­tri­cians," she says. In fact, the in­fant mor­taliy rate in that re­gion is as low as 25/1,000 now, claims Bang. Her model of train­ing tra­di­tional care givers has been repli­cated by gov­ern­ments of 17 emerg­ing coun­tries as well as by the Tata Trust in other parts of In­dia.

Bang’s Search has also launched a pro­gramme, called Nir­man, where it trains young­sters from all over Ma­ha­rash­tra to be­come change agents. Her vi­sion is to see her model of com­mu­nity care be­ing repli­cated across the coun­try through the Nir­man pro­gramme.

WHY SHE MAT­TERS Her pro­gramme, called Nir­man, is train­ing young­sters to be­come change agents

DR. RANI BANG C o - f o u n d e r, S e a r c h

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