What does it take to save a life?

A committed village

Several laughing children and adults standing and kneeling around a tree.

Ask the people of Ithar what they’re most proud of and they’re quick to answer: the new birthing center just 15 minutes from the village.

It’s easy to see why the center is so important. The road to Ithar is buried in grass in some places, littered with broken bricks in others, and barely wide enough for four wheels. Yet this is the road women in labor travel to get to the nearest hospital, over an hour away.

“It’s horrible for a pregnant woman to go that long distance,” says Sushila Devi, one of the village health workers commonly called ASHAs. So horrible, in fact, that many mothers and newborns have died without getting the emergency medical care the hospital can provide.

Members of the Village Health and Sanitation Committee in Ithar go over their health plan.

How to get to the hospital

PATH’s Sure Start project helped the village form a Village Health and Sanitation Committee, consisting of the pradhan (elected mayor), the ASHAs, and other respected community members. The committee drew up a health plan; one of the first goals was overcoming the reluctance of villagers to go to the hospital.

“They feared it would cost too much for the doctor, drugs, and transportation,” committee member Parmatma Prasad explains.

The committee contacted vehicle owners and negotiated a lower rate for women in labor. They set up a revolving loan fund to help families facing emergency medical costs. But still, there was the problem of the long and difficult journey.

Try, try again—and succeed

So the committee took a bold step. With guidance from their Sure Start supervisor, they sent a letter to the area’s medical officer asking to establish a birthing center in an empty government building located nearby. The medical officer replied that such a center needed an onsite midwife, and none was available.

When a request to the medical officer’s superior also failed, the committee traveled to meet with the district magistrate. Two weeks later, a nurse midwife moved in and the birthing center was open.

“The whole process took a year, but we never lost heart,” says Parmatma Prasad. “Sure Start taught us how to make things happen. If you advocate and meet with authorities, then you get services. Now poor communities can have health services closer to home and save the lives of their women and children.”