Tag Archives: challenges

New BCC Techniques Introduced

At Calcutta Kids, community meetings are held to divulge health messages through meetings focused on various health topics. The community meetings also serve to promote interaction among the mothers of the community. Through the monthly meetings, Calcutta Kids promotes positive health-seeking behavior through the method of Behavior Change Communication (BCC). Women from the community have expressed the need for such a platform where they can share ideas, discuss challenges they face or simply sit along with other women from their community as they drink chai and listen to the health workers about life-saving practices they may adopt.

The health workers do a great job of getting the health messages across to the mothers, usually through an interactive lecture. They encourage mothers to ask questions, share personal experiences and initiate discussions. However, there seems to be a gap between the information that is conveyed during these meetings and the change in practices of the women. After a meeting, the women are able to repeat verbatim, some of the messages of “You must wash your hands before cooking” or “You must eat 6 times a day when pregnant.” Are they really adopting these practices in their homes though? In some of my visits to the community I found that this is not the case in all households.

For example, during my community visit with a health worker on the day of a religious festival, I observed 6 pregnant women who were fasting all day for the good health of their husbands in the future. In some of these cases pregnant women were fasting despite discouragement to do so from their husbands and mothers-in-law (both powerful family members who influence the actions of the mothers). These were mothers who had been to the community meetings and knew well the information about the importance of good nutrition for themselves and their children but continued this detrimental practice. Cultural and religious factors, domestic burden of having to work at home all day, and the simplicity of not having to take that extra step to eat one more meal or wash your hands one extra time often becomes the cause of poor health.

In order to initiate transformative change in the mothers of the community, it is necessary to create reflective processes in a safe space for women to explore their feelings. Providing them with health messages is necessary to build awareness, but in addition to this the health workers need to use approaches that encourage women to think about their behaviors. “Experts who study behavior change agree that long-lasting change is most likely when it is self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking.”(1) Additionally, the setting of a community meeting helps to “recognize the social nature, because it is the co-presence of others thinking alongside us that matters as much as the thinking itself, helping us change our attitudes and reflect on our values, while also acting as commitment devices.”(2)

In order to address this challenge and use different strategies to inculcate positive health behaviors, we are having an offsite training this week where we will introduce various counseling techniques to the health workers. A review of Child Health topics such as “Care of a Sick Child”, “Care of a Low birth Weight Baby, Child Growth and Development”, “Post natal care and Breastfeeding”, and “Feeding practices and Immunizations” will be carried out through the use of various activities to communicate the health messages. Two new topics will also be introduced 1) Family Planning and 2) Hygiene and Sanitation. These health topics will be reviewed using puppet shows, discussion groups, role-play, interactive games and ‘Forum Theater  to demonstrate the use of multiple techniques that can aid in communicating behavior change.

Forum theater  created by the Brazilian director Augusto Boal, serves as an interactive form of theater where dramatic sketches are created through discussion to show scenes where we see a problem that needs to be changed. When the play is acted out, members of the audience are allowed to step in and portray their solution in the given situation thus evolving from mere spectators into “spect-actors”. “The aim is not to find the best solution but to produce a variety of options that could be used in this type of situation.”(3) Forum theater functions by allowing the audience as well as the actors to experience real-life situations in a stage setting with the opportunity to offer multiple solutions to a problem they face. We aspire to introduce the concept of Forum theater to the staff of Calcutta Kids to build community and dialogue on the various problem situations that create obstacles for behavior change in the community. Through this training we hope to ignite the creative minds, especially our community health workers who can use such activities at the community meetings to aid in their counseling techniques.

The training begins at our MoSSK on Thursday 7th February and will continue at an outside training center where we will spend the weekend together.  There will be briefing about the various protocols, lecture sessions, leadership training activities and group work. Word on the street is that there is also an eco-friendly newspaper fashion show to encourage staff bonding and a little bit of fun! -Sriya Srikrishnan

References:

(1) Harvard Women’s Health Watch January 2007 issue
http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Why-its-hard-to-change-unhealthy-behavior.htm

(2) John, Peter and Smith, Graham and Stoker, Gerry (2009) Nudge nudge, think think: two strategies for changing civic behaviour. Political Quarterly, 80 (3). pp. 361-370. ISSN 0032-3179

(3) Séguin, Angèle Rancourt, Clémence The Theatre: An Effective Tool for Health Promotion http://whqlibdoc.who.int/whf/1996/vol17-no1/WHF_1996_17(1)_p64-74.pdf

The Art and Science of Diagnosis

A professor from Ohio State e-mailed me the article with the deceivingly understated subject line of all-lower case “fyi.” The Hindu write-up’s headline, though, didn’t mask the shocking contents: “Appalling condition of primary healthcare services” it read. (1) Short and potent, it described the lurid details of a study carried out across the health sector in India, rural and urban, private and public. The details showed a fundamental lack of ability by medical professionals to diagnose even the most common conditions (asthma and dysentery, for example) or ask the most basic questions (whether there was “pain radiation” for an unstable angina). The result was a low rate of diagnosis, whether it was in rural Madhya Pradesh or Delhi.

Overall, healthcare providers provided the correct treatment only 30.4% of the time. (2) Even worse, 41.7% of the time the clinics provided unnecessary or even harmful treatments for “patients” that the research study trained (“from the local community”, the article notes). Many providers, even in public clinics, were unqualified. Medical guidelines and treatment protocols were followed at low rates; providers only asked 33.7% of the recommendations. In Madhya Pradesh, doctors spent 3.6 minutes with patients, while Delhi medical professionals spent a marginally better but still terrible 5.4 minutes. For reference, the Medical Council of India recommends doctors spend at least 10 minutes with each patient. (3)

The article highlighted tough facts that Calcutta Kids has been tackling for years. Through our experiences with the health clinic, we’ve worked to combat the norm of primary health in India: brief, non-comprehensive visits and a disregard for protocols and checklists. We’ve uploaded to the resources section of our website our child health World Health Organization’s IMCI and IMPAC-based Child Health and Pregnancy and Maternal Health protocols and checklists which our doctors are trained and demanded to use. Our two health clinic physicians, Drs. Pal and Sen, work with our management staff to ensure that the protocols we have provided them matches their process for diagnosing patients. See the above-mentioned resources below:

Child Health Protocol (0-2 months)
Child Health Checklist (0-2 months)
Child Health Protocol (2 months to 5 years)
Child Health Checklist (2 months to 5 years)

Pregnancy and Maternal Health Checklist and Protocol

It’s an important process that Calcutta Kids has to do to ensure our beneficiaries get not just quantity but truly quality care. It hasn’t been an easy process to bring in this cultural change into our clinic over the years, but it’s a necessary one. In addition, the creation of standardized protocols ensures a consistent level of care that our beneficiaries can expect, regardless of personnel changes. As Atul Gawande noted in his Harvard Medical School commencement, it’ll require an understanding of a team of healthcare providers- a “pit crew” that includes our health workers- not just the lone cowboy physician:

“The work is rooted in different values than the ones we’ve had. They include humility, an understanding that no matter who you are, how experienced or smart, you will fail. They include discipline, the belief that standardization, doing certain things the same way every time, can reduce your failures. And they include teamwork, the recognition that others can save you from failure, no matter who they are in the hierarchy.” (4)

Many rightly criticize the low rates of spending on health per GDP in India, ranking 171st out of 175 countries according to a WHO study. (5) But the situation is even grimmer: it is not enough to just increase spending, build more primary health centers or even to write diagnostic protocols at a national level. The groundwork of implementation at a doctor to patient level must be accomplished. At our health clinic, we work on this ground level to make sure that provision of the highest level of primary healthcare is a reality for the mothers and children of Fakir Bagan.–Pranav Reddy

Citations:

  1. Appalling condition of primary healthcare services. The Hindu. R Prasad. December 6, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/health/medicine-and-research/appalling-condition-of-primary-healthcare-services/article4167677.ece on Jan 1, 2013.
  2. In urban and rural India, a standardized patient study showed low levels of provider training and huge quality gaps. J Das, A Holla, V Das, M Mohanan, D Tabak, B Chan. Health Affairs. December 2012. 31(12):2774-84
  3. MCI wants docs to spend at least 10 mins with each patient. The Times of India. K Sinha. September 1, 2011. Retrieved from http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-09-01/india/29953546_1_opd-patients-doctors on Jan 1, 2013.
  4. Cowboys and Pit Crews. The New Yorker. Atul Gawande. May 26, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/05/atul-gawande-harvard-medical-school-commencement-address.html#ixzz2H02jhJMO on Jan 1, 2013.
  5. World Health Statistics 2011 Report. World Health Organization (WHO). 2011; 127-139. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/whosis/whostat/2011/en/index.html on Jan 1 2013.

Welcome To Our New Trustees

On the top of the agenda for Calcutta Kids during the year 2013 is sustainability. Too often in development the word sustainability is meant only to refer to financial sustainability.  But one of the major challenges development workers face in the field is organizational sustainability—how will the organization manage times of uncertainty and change; how will the vision and passion of the founder remain present in the team in such a profound way as to drive them without the physical presence of the founder? Since its inception Calcutta Kids has been focused on ensuring successful implementation of its programs in order to achieve its objectives. As significant changes in health indicators are now visible and attributable to our interventions, the obvious next step is to focus on the sustainability of the organizational systems and then scale up.

In the summer of 2012 following the unexpected death of our co-founding trustee in India, Mrs. Shwasti Chaudhuri, we inducted two dynamic new trustees to help guide the organization. I’m pleased to introduce Mr. Sudipta Sinha Roy and Mr. John Ambat. In the past several months, both of these trustees have spent a considerable amount of time at Calcutta Kids getting to know the staff and observing and participating in our activities. Aware of the organization’s desire to scale up, both John and Sudipta are carefully analyzing the existing systems and policies with regard to accounts, investments and human resources to ensure that we are ready.

Both Sudipta and John run their own companies and are able to provide 360 degree visions of how to run an organization in India. Given their rich professional experiences and backgrounds, they are able to guide Calcutta Kids to improve organizational sustainability.

A major challenge faced by organizations in the non-profit-sector in India is that of striking the right balance between policies guided by standards versus emotions. Individuals who choose to work in the non-profit-sector usually do so because of an emotional desire to serve the poor. A common purpose among a group of devoted employees often creates a feeling of family which certainly improves service delivery. But it also makes it difficult to standardize systems and ensure smooth functioning of the organization. In order to ensure healthy sustainability and growth, it is crucial for us to create an environment with a balance—one where we maintain an environment in which the staff feel like family, and is also able to function in a manner in which standardized policies and guidelines are followed. As we prepare to grow and move forward, we are confident in the guidance and support of the newest additions to our Board.

John and Sudipta have already proven to be wise additions to the governing body of Calcutta Kids. As do all of our trustees, they believe deeply in the work of Calcutta Kids and are committed to the organization’s sustainability and growth.–Noah Levinson and Evangeline Ambat

AIF Fellow impressions 2012-13 (2 of 2)

On our first day working as fellows at Calcutta Kids, about a month back now, Sriya and I found ourselves rolling our pant-legs up and wading into dark, murky water. We were walking door-to-door with the community health workers in Fakir Bagan. The health workers, who form the foundation of CK’s mission, cajoled and persuaded, informed and explained, about the basic behaviors that were essential for their health and the health of the child in their womb. I realized then, as the gentle fans in the homes of the expecting mothers did a valiant effort to dry our monsoon rain-soaked clothes, that public health didn’t get more grassroots than this. Calcutta Kids worked, rain or shine, at the deepest and most essential roots of maternal and child health, in areas that are black holes in the larger Indian public health system.

Cleaning the drains in Fakir Bagan

Compared to the U.S., Calcutta is, of course, a risky place. One thing that I heard many times from family and friends was to take care of my health. But the truth is no matter how much riskier my life has gotten since I came to Calcutta from Ohio, daily life for an inhabitant of Fakir Bagan is laden with an immensely greater amount of risk. We can look to life expectancy (an admittedly crude indicator). Life expectancy at birth in the U.S. is 78.5 years, and in India it’s 67.1 years (CIA World Factbook 2012). These are averages though; estimates of life expectancy in slums across the globe, ones similar to Fakir Bagan have ranged from seven to fifteen years lower than non-slum urban areas. The risks begin at the very beginning of life and continue throughout, and are not far from what the average American would have faced a century ago.

A healthy CK child

In my view, all health providers at their core attempt to mitigate and prevent risk for their beneficiaries. At the most essential and highest impact stages of life, Calcutta Kids tackles this vast disparity for risk of death and illness. I’ve seen this done through a myriad of MCH programs, including nutrition for malnourished children, regular immunization, check-ups with an on-staff physician, and regular meetings with our health workers.

Immunizations about to be given

Over the next year, Calcutta Kids’s capacity to be involved and engaged within the community will increase, including the behavior change communication programs and community health meetings Sriya will be aiding with as well as the new child development corner. Additionally, Calcutta Kids will be transitioning the health clinic into the Ma o Shishu Shiksha Kendra community center, right in the thick of Fakir Bagan, and initiating a potential geographical expansion within the Howrah slums. I look forward to helping with these goals throughout the year and many more rain soaked home visits.–Pranav Reddy (AIF William J. Clinton Fellow 2012-2013)

AIF Fellow impressions 2012-13 (1 of 2)

I am so impressed and inspired by the motivation you see at Calcutta Kids. Every health worker I have been able to spend time with during my first month here is doing a wholehearted job to be a good resource to the organization and more importantly to the community they are serving. Thanks to our mentor Danya Sarkar, who helped us feel settled down, Pranav and I have been able to explore the community and learn all the various functions of the organization. As we make our visits into the field with the health workers, the community has noticed and recognizes us as new members of Calcutta Kids. We realized this as we looked a little lost while trying to find our way to the community center and two women immediately gave us directions before we even asked them!

The mission of Calcutta Kids can be understood through the manner in which the health workers communicate with the women of the community. Every child is important and can be given adequate care by simply monitoring them. If a child’s weight has not increased during the monthly Growth, Monitoring and Promotion Program, the health worker visits the mother in the following week and counsels her. The health workers express how they are really sad when they see no positive growth in the child. They encourage each mother to take more care of the baby, give her simple tips on how to create a healthy diet and also praise her when she has done a good job. Thus, the health workers have built a great relationship with the mothers of the community. The mothers are always happy to see the didis and welcome them into their houses. They also offer tea or lunch and ask us to spend time with them. When the health worker completes filling up her form and questionnaire, the women thank her for coming and tell her that they felt happy they got to chat with them. The women also trust the health workers as much as they trust a doctor. Even when the health workers are merely on their walk from one house visit to another, many women stop them with their babies and talk about how their child still has a cold or might have developed a skin infection.

Meeting for pregnant women lead by Laxmi Gupta

Meeting for pregnant women led by Laxmi Gupta

The success stories from Calcutta Kids are commendable and its establishment in Fakir Bagan is very apparent in the number of people who visit the clinic everyday or the manner in which we are received in each house. However, there is still work to be done. Although the women recognize the messages delivered by the health workers, many women still do not seem to be adopting a change in their habits. They usually quote too much housework and stress in their lives as reasons for not being able to follow the health workers advice. Even when they come to the community meetings, they listen to the messages or watch the videos but whether they are following the key points is something yet to be assessed. This is a project I plan to work on during my time at Calcutta Kids. I will be working out behavior change communication strategies using different methods of delivering messages to the community. I will be working with the health workers and the beneficiaries to find out why they are not able to follow simple, yet key health practices. Through the health counseling sessions, community meetings and discussions groups I hope to understand the needs of the women, analyze existing techniques of delivering health messages and find ways to improve them. Eventually, I hope to create a sustainable structure to monitor and evaluate changes in health behavior as put forth by the health workers.- Sriya Srikrishnan (AIF William J. Clinton Fellow 2012-2013)

C-Section Blog Series (4 of 4)

The third part of our C-section blog series focused on the circumstances leading up to Calcutta Kids’ decision to stop partnering with private clinics for facility based deliveries, and instead (a) offer a Delivery Savings Scheme (DSS) which would provide financial assistance for beneficiaries to deliver wherever they prefer; and (b) up the ante on birth preparedness through a new home counseling curriculum. This week’s blog describes that curriculum, provides data on beneficiaries’ usage rates of the delivery savings scheme, and calls attention to the fact that more community involvement is necessary for the delivery savings program to succeed.

Throughout the pregnancies of our beneficiaries, our CHWs visit their homes at least once a month. During the last few months of pregnancy, the visits have become more standardized and focus on the following themes:

  • Danger signs. What to watch out for—especially pain in the lower abdomen, heavy white discharge or bloody discharge. In such cases, pregnant women are advised to go immediately to the facility with which they are registered, and to call their Area in Charge for support
  • What not to worry about: Many women become worried if the gestational age of their child crosses 37 weeks. The CHW’s counsel the women not to worry about this until around 40 weeks at which time they should visit their facility.
  • Preparation: The family is counseled to assure the availability of transportation to the facility regardless of the time of day or night, and to ensure that money is set aside for transport. They are also told what documentation to have ready to take with them to the facility.
  • To C or not to C: Pregnant women and their families are provided with knowledge about C-sections. They are informed of the recognized and accepted indications for C-sections; the potential risks for the mother after a C-section delivery; the potential risks for the mother during her next pregnancy; the immediate risks for the baby during a C-section delivery; and the potential long term risks for a C-section-delivered child.

The CK staff has gone through an intensive training focusing on these themes. (You can see these materials in the resources section of our website or you can click here for the Labor and Delivery Educational Session and here for the C-Section Education Session.)  They also have received refresher training on the labor and delivery process, fetal development, and complications that can occur during labor. And they are equipped with flip charts and other materials to facilitate their home-based counseling with pregnant women.

Delivery Savings Scheme Data:

  • Scheme began in July 2011
  • Since inception, 68 CK pregnant women out of 162 pregnant women in households registered with CK, have enrolled in DSS
  • Of those 68, 45 remain pregnant
    • Of the 45 who delivered, 2 had miscarriages; 29 had normal deliveries, and 14 had c-sections.
    • Of the 45 who delivered, 24 took place in private facilities and 19 took place in public facilities.
  • Currently (July 2012) there are 55 pregnant women involved with Calcutta Kids and 21 are participating in the DSS.

With a DSS user rate of around 40%, the scheme is not working as well as we would like. And the DSS is not working as a replacement for the services being provided earlier through private facilities.

Next week, Calcutta Kids will be holding a number of focus group discussions to try and figure out why it is that more pregnant women are not taking advantage of this scheme. The discussions will be held separately with those who have used the DSS and those who have not. We look forward to sharing what we learn from these discussions in a future blog.

From this data, however, some questions arise: Does this experience coupled with the micro insurance experience indicate that families (a) don’t have surplus cash on hand or (b) aren’t willing to use surplus cash for such a purpose or (c) that the men in the family are not willing to set such money aside for this or (d) there a is basic fear (based on the reality that there is a lot of huckstering that goes on in the slum) that they might never see their money again?

Clearly we have more work to do in facilitating a good option for safe facility-based delivery among our beneficiaries. We are confident that we will be able to find a solution which benefits our beneficiaries while at the same time protecting them—and also Calcutta Kids. -Sumana Ghosh, Danya Sarkar and Noah Levinson

C-Section Blog Series (3 of 4)

In 2007, a young man visited Calcutta Kids from abroad. He was interested in exploring why Calcutta Kids at that time was working with the private health sector rather than the government sector. Instead of explaining the deplorable state of government hospitals and going into the gory details of government bureaucracy, I asked the young man if he might like to join me in visiting a nearby government hospital. He agreed and we hopped into a cycle rickshaw and headed for the hospital.

Fifteen minutes later, we stepped out of the rickshaw, walked into the hospital, and were greeted by a line of stretchers carrying corpses waiting to be picked up by the morgue. We stood there for a few moments trying to get our bearings. When we moved forward, our guest tripped over a large rat that was scurrying across the floor. The young man told me that he now understood why we worked with private hospitals and clinics.

For the most part, our experiences with private clinics and hospitals over the years have been positive ones. Our beneficiaries prefer the private sector as does most of the population of India. And, given the fact that Calcutta Kids was covering the cost of this private hospitalization partially or fully, the beneficiaries were overwhelmingly pleased with this arrangement.

Over the years, however, our understanding of both the private and public health sector in India has evolved, and as we recruited more medical staff on our team, we began to seriously question our exclusive partnership with the private sector.

Part of the evolution in our thinking resulted from a better understanding of C-sections in our area. The rising cost of C-sections our beneficiaries are paying combined with our understanding of the dangers of unnecessary C-sections frightened the Calcutta Kids team and we began to examine our options carefully.

We realized that we were facing two major issues: the first a potential major operational threat to Calcutta Kids; the second an ethical dilemma: Because we have had relationships with particular clinics and were paying the fees for deliveries at these clinics, we were in essence accrediting them; beneficiaries who trusted us throughout their pregnancies were trusting the facilities with which we partnered. This meant, in turn, that if something at these clinics were to go wrong, we would be blamed. Such a situation could create major problems for Calcutta Kids. The ethical dilemma was that since we were paying for the deliveries at these clinics which practiced excessive use of C-sections, we were partially responsible for any deleterious effects of an unnecessary C-section on a mother or child. Was it possible that while we believed we were providing the best possible care for pregnant women and children, we might be exposing them to unnecessary risk?

Below is a brief synopsis of our discussions.

  • We could speak with the private sector clinics, encourage them to follow WHO protocols on the appropriate conditions for C-sections, and then request medical reports for each C-section financed by Calcutta Kids. This option was tried without success. After all, C-sections are increasingly the norm, and the clinics did not want to follow a protocol inflicted upon them by an NGO.
  • We could open our own maternity clinic, although at an exorbitant cost. This was never really an option. Our focus is on nutrition, BCC, and preventive care and that is where it should remain.
  • We could encourage our patients to advocate themselves for normal deliveries unless a C-section is clearly warranted. This we also do but with limited success. Rarely will a poor uneducated family go against the advice of a doctor.
  • We could stop paying for C-sections altogether. But what about those rare cases where C-sections are indeed necessary and families cannot afford them?
  • We could partner exclusively with the government hospitals. But this goes against the preference of our beneficiaries.

Finding none of these options satisfactory, and recognizing the danger to our beneficiaries and to Calcutta Kids, we ended up terminating our formal partnerships with the private sector. What we put in its place is a delivery savings scheme—a financial incentive to ensure a facility-based delivery. The delivery savings scheme enables women to save money in a safe place and to receive a matched amount from Calcutta Kids of up to 2,000 rupees. The beneficiaries then can choose to spend this money at a private clinic (Rs.4000 will likely cover a normal delivery, but not the full cost of a C-section) or they can go to a government hospital where the delivery will be free and use this savings for postnatal care.

Along with the delivery savings scheme, we’ve begun a program of intensive counseling for pregnant women to help assure that they understand all that they need to know about deliveries and can make an educated decision about whether to have a C-section if the doctor recommends one.

The last blog post in this four part series will speak about Calcutta Kids’ experience with the delivery savings scheme as well as the curriculum mentioned above. –Noah Levinson

C-Section Blog Series (2 of 4)

The rise of C-section rates in many parts of the world has triggered a global debate on the use of C-sections, the ideal rate of C-section, and appropriateness of high rates in certain countries. In 1985 the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a C-section rate of not more than 10-15%. In 2010, they withdrew that guideline and replaced it with a more general statement that, “There is no empirical evidence for an optimum percentage. What matters most is that all women who need caesarean sections receive them.” The WHO’s decision to not focus on a universal, evidence-based optimum rate makes sense in light of the difficulties of doing so but, without a specified rate, there is no easy benchmark by which to monitor and interpret the use and potential overuse of c-section deliveries.

When clinically indicated for complications during pregnancy or labor, C-sections greatly improve obstetric outcomes, which in turn improve maternal and child health outcomes. In many developing countries, women have inadequate access to emergency obstetric care leading to preventable maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality. In such settings, it is essential to strengthen health systems and infrastructure to ensure that C-section services are provided when they are medically indicated and could save lives.

In populations with excessively high C-section rates, on the other hand, there is growing concern about the health and economic consequences when C-sections are performed for reasons other than medical necessity. A C-section is a major surgical intervention that should be carefully considered in light of associated risks that can increase maternal and perinatal morbidities, which include bleeding, infection, blood clots, and increased need for ICU care. C-sections can also have long-term consequences on child health, including increased risk of developing allergies and asthma. (1) Maternal mortality for women undergoing C-sections is four to ten times higher than for vaginal birth. A multi-country study carried out in Latin America indicated that an increase in rates of caesarean delivery is associated with increased use of antibiotics postpartum, greater severe maternal morbidity and mortality, and higher fetal and neonatal morbidity. (2) Another multi-country study carried out in Asia in 2007-8 showed that there was an increased risk of maternal mortality and severe morbidity in women who undergo C-section with no medical indication. (3) Furthermore, in low-income countries with an unmet need for C-section (where women who need C-sections are not receiving them due to inadequate access to obstetric care), the issue of resource drain is important: If C-sections are restricted to only clinical indications and not performed unnecessarily, resources would not be sapped from other sections of the health system.

http://cartoonistsatish.blogspot.in/2009/07/muhurat-c-section.html

Currently, the global C-section rate is about 15%, but there are huge variations in C-section rates across countries and regions in the world. A consistent increase has been seen in the rate of C-section deliveries in most developed countries and in many developing countries including India. Globally, China has the highest rate at an alarming 46% of births being C-section (3); Brazil follows behind at 37% (4). In the United States the rate has been steadily increasing in the past decade and is now at 30%, while in Scandinavian countries it hovers around 20%. In Asia, after China, Vietnam and Thailand have the highest rates with 36% and 34%, respectively. The lowest rate in Asia is Cambodia, with 15%. (3) Although India’s rate is not disturbingly high in the global context, its rate has spiked from 2.2% in 1992-3 to 18% today. Within India, the states of Kerala, Goa, and Andhra Pradesh have the highest rates. In West Bengal the rate rose from 3.3% in 1992-3 to 19% in 2009-10. (5)

There is also a large divide between urban and rural areas, and between public and private facilities. West Bengal as a whole has a C-section rate of 19%; the city of Kolkata’s rate is 33.5% while rural Malda District’s is 2.2%. In Kolkata as in most large Indian cities, the C-section rates in private hospitals are much higher (50% and up) than in public hospitals, which average about 12%. (6) This emerging trend is a classic example of inequalities in access to C-sections in developing countries: It means that in poor, rural areas where there is less access to emergency obstetric care, women who medically need C-sections may not be getting them, while women living in urban areas and going to private hospitals are getting C-sections that may be performed unnecessarily, causing unwarranted risk to the mother and baby.

The trend in rising C-section rates in India and other parts of the world is driven by many reasons factors including, but not limited to:

  • Increase in facility-based deliveries and improved access to emergency obstetric care; improved surgical and anesthetic techniques
  • Doctors’ preference for the procedure due to ease, timing, and financial   incentive compared to vaginal delivery
  • Women’s preference for the procedure to avoid long labor and delivery
  • Over medicalization of childbirth process
  • Lack of information on natural birth options for women
  • Perception of safety of the procedure; casual attitudes about surgery and limited awareness about realities of surgery
  • Increase in heavier women and older women giving birth
  • Increase in multiples (twins, triplets, etc) due to fertility drugs and IVF

How do rising C-section rates affect Calcutta Kids?

Our beneficiaries at Calcutta Kids are very much affected by C-section trends in West Bengal, as their deliveries are taking place in government and private hospitals in Howrah. In the past five years, we have witnessed increasing rates of C-section for women who are participating in our program. In a preliminary analysis of data, our C-section delivery rate has increased from 10% in 2007 to 30.4% in 2012. There may be many contributing factors, including an increase in facility-based deliveries from 67% in 2005 to 90% in 2012. However, we are conducting further analysis to assess these trends and explore the reasons behind them.

Calcutta Kids is not involved in the childbirth process for our beneficiaries and we cannot directly affect any decisions made once a woman has been admitted to the facility, so we do not have any control over C-section rates among our beneficiaries. However, we can take advantage of opportunities during pregnancy to raise awareness about birth preparedness and help a woman understand what she can expect at the facility, including what decisions will be made once the birth process has begun.

Next week’s blog post will cover Calcutta Kids’ experience with facility deliveries and C-sections , followed by a blog post on our work with health workers and pregnant women on birth preparedness and facility delivery. -Danya Sarkar

Citations:

  1. Mode of Delivery Is Associated With Asthma and Allergy Occurrences in Children. Muhammad T.Salam, MBBS, MS, Helene G. Margolis, PhD, Rob McConnell, MD, James A. McGregor, MD, Edward Avol, MS, Frank D. Gilliland, MD, PhD. Annals of Epidemiology, Volume 16, Issue 5, May 2006; 341–346.
  2. Caesarean delivery rates and pregnancy outcomes: the 2005 WHO global survey on maternal and perinatal health in Latin America. José Villar, Eliette Valladares, Daniel Wojdyla, Nelly Zavaleta, Guillermo Carroli, Alejandro Velazco, Archana Shah, Liana Campodónico, Vicente Bataglia, Anibal Faundes, Ana Langer, Alberto Narváez, Allan Donner, Mariana Romero, Sofi a Reynoso, Karla Simônia de Pádua, Daniel Giordano, Marius Kublickas, Arnaldo Acosta, for the WHO 2005 global survey on maternal and perinatal health research group. Lancet 2006; 367: 1819–29.
  3. Method of delivery and pregnancy outcomes in Asia: the WHO global survey on maternal and perinatal health 2007–08. Pisake Lumbiganon, Malinee Laopaiboon, A Metin Gülmezoglu, João Paulo Souza, Surasak Taneepanichskul, Pang Ruyan,Deepika Eranjanie Attygalle, Naveen Shrestha, Rintaro Mori, Nguyen Duc Hinh, Hoang Thi Bang, Tung Rathavy, Kang Chuyun, Kannitha Cheang, Mario Festin, Venus Udomprasertgul, Maria Julieta V Germar, Gao Yanqiu, Malabika Roy, Guillermo Carroli, Katherine Ba-Thike, Ekaterina Filatova, José Villar, for the World Health Organization Global Survey on Maternal and Perinatal Health Research Group. Lancet 2010; 375: 490–99.
  4. The Role of Nonclinical Factors in Cesarean Section Rates in Brazil. Kristine Hopkins and Ernesto Amaral. Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.
  5. Levels and Trends in Caesarean Births: Cause for Concern? Sancheeta Ghosh, K S James. Economic & Political Weekly January 30, 2010 vol xlv no 5.
  6. Telegraph article: To C or not to C?

C-Section Blog Series (1 of 4)

For the month of July, Calcutta Kids’ weekly blog will be on the topic of C-section deliveries, and the challenges of working in maternal and child health during a time when C-sections are becoming the norm.

According to a December 2011 article  in the Telegraph, West Bengal “has more Caesarean section deliveries in private hospitals than anywhere else in the country”, and Kolkata has the highest rate at 33.5%. C-sections are convenient for doctors and lucrative for facilities, so doctors are beginning to schedule deliveries regardless of a medical need. Some of the best private hospitals in Kolkata have even removed labor rooms altogether, and only offer the C-section option.

C-section deliveries can lead to serious complications such as hemorrhage, lingering abdominal pain, hernia, blood clots, and long-term effects including a required hysterectomy and even death. C-sections can also impact the child, and can lead to increased incidence of asthma and allergies, as well as possible neurological disorders. In addition, C-sections are expensive and recovery time is often greater than for a vaginal birth. As a public health organization, Calcutta Kids encourages best practices for maternal and child health. This includes safe prenatal care; a vaginal, facility-based delivery (wherever possible); access to comprehensive emergency obstetric and newborn care; exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth, and critical health messages given to the new mother and family.

Through this series, readers can learn more about C-section rates in India and West Bengal, decisions made at the facility level, and our difficulty in having an impact in the delivery room. We will also share what Calcutta Kids is trying to do to empower women through birth preparedness, and welcome your comments and suggestions on ways we can address these challenges. -Margy Elliott

Responsible Prescriptions

CK Medicine Cabinet

Over-prescription of medication is a challenge faced by any public health organization in India. In Fakir Bagan, mothers expect that they will receive at least three medicines including at least one antibiotic for most illnesses, no matter how mild the complaint may be. There is likely to be a relationship between the pharmaceutical company and the doctor, and therefore it is mutually beneficial to prescribe as many medications as possible. Because this system has been in place for many years, a mother is now unsatisfied if she visits a doctor and does not receive an antibiotic for her child’s runny nose. These are obviously generalizations, but the challenge of minimizing the role of unnecessary medicines looms large. We have been working with several doctors and public health professionals to narrow the list of CK’s regularly stocked medicines, and to make sure only necessary prescriptions are issued.

In the two weeks since we started significantly minimizing unnecessary medicines, there have been several unsatisfied beneficiaries. Our hope is that the majority of beneficiaries will realize that they have more time with our doctor and that she really is giving good quality medical advice, even if it does not include antibiotics. – Dora Levinson