Tag Archives: health promotion

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.

The Story of Puja Yadav

I will never forget the image of Puja on that first day of YCHING (Young Child Nutrition Group) in April 2011: Her mother Rinku set her down on the ground, and she took off, a whirlwind of 11 month old energy, tottering on slightly bowed legs, eyes bright with promise, grinning ear to ear. She was a radiant child.

Puja in April 2011

Fast forward to January 2012: Puja’s family came back to Fakir Bagan after a 10 month stay in the village during which time Rinku delivered her fourth child, Prince. Rinku had conceived again when Puja was just 9 months old, and the family–which included Rinku, her husband, Puja’s older brother and sister, and Puja–decided to return to the village for the pregnancy and delivery and to be close to extended family at home. The next time we saw Puja in January, we were shocked to see her condition–gone was the sunny, energetic girl we knew a year back. The new Puja was sullen, lethargic, and irritable. There was a clear reason: after taking her measurements we found that Puja had dropped off her growth curve, plummeting from -2.2 in weight for age z-score (WAZ) in April 2011 to -3.6 WAZ in January 2012. She was severely underweight and obviously suffering from infection. We counseled her mother and urged her to bring Puja in for examination and treatment, but with the new baby, plus Puja and her older siblings, Rinku was overwhelmed and decided to return to the village before we could intervene.

The family reappeared in Fakir Bagan in June 2012 and we were dismayed to see that Puja, now at 27 months, had taken a turn for the worse.  She was now -4.8 WAZ, very severely underweight, and also severely wasted at -3.03 weight for height z-score (WHZ). She suffered from both chronic and acute malnutrition- she was very weak, had raspy, labored breathing, a swollen abdomen, and chronic fever. She urgently needed help. We were sure she would not survive if she continued on this downward spiral.

Puja in June 2012

The Calcutta Kids doctor examined Puja and we quickly put together a treatment plan for Puja. First, we referred and accompanied her to Hope Hospital in Kolkata where she could be seen by a specialist pediatrician. The pediatrician diagnosed her with severe protein energy malnutrition (PEM), severe anemia, and chronic infection, and suspected that she had TB. He ordered a battery of tests and we sent Puja to the local DOTS (Directly Observed Therapy) center for TB screening. Though her Mantoux test was negative, her chest x-ray showed severe infection in the lung.

In consultation with the Hope pediatrician, Puja is now taking a 3 month course of level I anti-tuberculosis drug for her lung infection and therapeutic micronutrient supplements. Rinku brings her to the Calcutta Kids clinic everyday for an energy and protein dense, nutritious meal. Our health workers visit her home regularly for follow up and counseling on care, hygiene, and nutrition with the family.

Puja and her mother Rinku, July 2012

Puja Yadav, like all our children at Calcutta Kids, was never just a ‘case’ to be managed. She was a child at risk, a child trying desperately to survive the odds around her–a life that would not only be lost, but discounted, if someone did not intervene. Our entire team rallied together with Puja’s family.  We had intense discussions, we shed a few tears, and we cheered when Puja started gaining weight, slowly but surely; started smiling again; and even laughing. We are very happy to report that Puja has started to blossom again, and is slowly starting to resemble the girl we met over a year ago. In two months, she gained 1.5 kg, and shot up from -4.8 WAZ to -3.5 WAZ. She has improved from severe wasting (-3.03 WHZ) to mild wasting (-1.38 WHZ), a remarkable turnaround. And all of this has happened with home-based care, which is much harder to adhere to and manage than institutionalized rehabilitation, an option that the family would not consider, because it would mean leaving the other children at home without a full-time caregiver.

Like Puja, the family has started to change as well. Initially, both father and mother did not want to take Puja to the DOTS center three days a week for medication. They feared Puja would be labeled as a TB patient and ostracized by their neighbors. Calcutta Kids counseled them and gave them confidence to explain to their neighbors why they sought treatment for Puja. The community around them has also seen the changes in Puja and supports the family’s actions. Furthermore, as Puja’s health has improved, her younger brother Prince has also made remarkable strides. He, too, had been severely underweight when they came back from the village in June 2012. In the past 2 months, Prince moved up to the moderate category, gaining 1.2 kg, going from -3.47 to -2.4 in z-score (WAZ). We believe that this is another testament to change that has occurred in the family and especially in Rinku, who now seems less burdened, more confident, and proud of her children. When she brings Puja to the clinic she is delighted when Puja calls our health workers ‘amar didi’ (my elder sisters) and when Puja holds her hands to us in ‘namashkar.’

Puja now–August 2012

Puja is a true fighter. She is still the vibrant spirit who caught our attention long ago. She and her family just needed some extra attention. We at Calcutta Kids feel privileged that we were able to provide that additional help. We are committed to making sure that Puja remains on this trajectory of growth and nutrition, a critical foundation for a healthy and productive future. –Danya Sarkar

Puja’s Weight for Age Z score.
(Ideal is a straight line at 0)

Puja’s Weight for Height Z score.
(Ideal is a straight line at 0)

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?

Swarathma Brings in the Monsoon

I pegged Swarathma as a small time band from a mile away. It was presumptive, sure, naïve even, but it didn’t occur to me that anyone else would play for an NGO in the dusty heat of a slum for free. Little did I know how wrong I was.

When Noah divulged the details to me, I found out that the band is actually something of an Indian phenomenon. Their first album won them Best Band, Best Album, and Song of the Year at India’s most prestigious annual rock awards show. They were on the iconic TV series The Dewarists. They have toured Australia, Britian, and Morocco. And now they were playing for Calcutta Kids.

Back in the old days, for every paid gig they played one for free. They’ve since run out of enough time to keep up the one to one ratio, but when they can they still try to play for those who would not see them otherwise. Thanks to their bassist and spokesman Jishnu’s old friendship with Evangeline, the final concert on the tour to mark the launch of their second album would be in Fakir Bagan.

Weaving around piles of sand and through patches of the road lost in mud, Evangeline and I eventually led their van to Howrah and the impromptu stage that had been miraculously constructed for them. I think the band was almost so impressed as we were, and the juxtaposition of big-band electronics and crumbling-wall school grounds was immensely pleasing.

I picked out a spot in the sea of rickety plastic chairs that bulged at the edges of the colorful canopy above it, and the band sound checked as the crowd filtered in. Chandan and Kalyan lugged some wooden benches out from the school to augment the periphery as it became clear that spectators would outnumber chairs. When all was said and done, a floor of women and children—often balanced on laps or sitting together two to a chair—gazed up at the first bandstand of their lives.

Just before the band went backstage to change into performance attire, their lead singer arrived. No one was going to disappoint the crowd by admitting that he had been missing—the doctors had to knock him out cold at the hospital the night before to put a dislocated shoulder back in—and the band assured us that they could play without him. But after we left him at the hotel and told him to lie low, he just couldn’t. So with a piece of cloth to support his arm (to everyone’s amazement, he even replaced that with a guitar strap when the concert began, strumming away as though nothing had happened), he made it just in time. Security—a graying old man with a stoop and a hard stick—almost wouldn’t let him in. He didn’t have a ticket, after all.

When the band took the stage and plunged into their first song, it seemed to me that an almost tangible incredulousness emanated from the audience. The end of the first number and no more than a sparse acknowledgement of applause underlined the pristine newness of the occasion: the crowd did not know how to react simply because they had never reacted to such a thing before.

Slowly but surely, though, the audience grew less self-conscious and more absorbed by the music. Jishnu has a way of connecting with the floor before him, and in between songs he lightheartedly instructed the crowd in performance manners—when to clap, when to cheer—and introduced the songs that followed, explaining their significance and meaning. On the second song there was little cooperation when he tried to stimulate a clap, but when he motioned for the mothers to lift up their babies in front of them with the chorus of the fourth, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. He even seamlessly promoted Calcutta Kids’ new and critical mantra: “A child gaining weight cannot be very sick. A child not gaining weight cannot be very well.”

As the concert went on, the clouds around us darkened, rumbling closer. Just as the mood was reaching unabashed exuberance, the thunder clapped above us and the rain began to fall. At first, no one seemed to know what to do. As soon as it became clear that an inundation was in store, however, the crowd lurched into motion, fleeing either home or into the schoolhouse next door. The band and their helpers scurried to protect the equipment from the blowing rain.

Perhaps unexpectedly to the westerners among us, the deluge did not bring with it a downhearted regret that the concert had been called off before its due course. Instead, the cooling blessing of storm and rain stimulated the same energetic exuberance that had radiated up moments before at Swarathma. As we huddled inside to wait out the downpour, we figured that nature could have given us fifteen more minutes of music. But we agreed that no one could have planned so powerful a coda to the slum’s first concert.—Evan Mullen

Immunizations – More Than Just a Shot

The immunization program has been a service of Calcutta Kids for many years, but during the last year, we have worked very hard to make it as effective and efficient as our GMP program. There are two primary ways that we have accomplished this; the first is a short multimedia education and counseling session and the second is a system in our database that tracks the immunizations for each child and correctly identifies those who are eligible for that week’s clinic.

Rather than simply telling mothers and caretakers that these immunizations are necessary, we are working to inform our beneficiaries about why these immunizations are important. The short education and counseling session is designed to convey information on both the disease (or diseases) that the immunization is preventing, and on possible side effects. We have already seen mothers taking a larger interest in the immunization program and asking the CHWs about the next session. And for those not taking the initiative, we have an accurate list of all children who should come to the clinic and take the time to remind each household on that list. Take a look at the immunization counseling materials here.

The immunization section of the database has been greatly improved in the past year, and now takes into account the immunizations that have been received and the dates of each immunization received. This is important because many children have missed doses and are therefore off the ideal schedule. For example, a child may have received the first dose of DPT, OPV and Hep-B, but then did not receive the second dose after four weeks, but instead returned after eight weeks. According to the age, the child should be receiving the third dose but in fact, he or she should be receiving the second dose. The system also makes sure that enough time has passed between doses. These two improvements are helping us toward our goal of full immunization for each child that participates in our program. -Dora Levinson

A Message for the Community

I was recently asked, “If the population Calcutta Kids serves were to remember only one of the messages you give, what would it be?” Without any hesitation, I replied with a wonderful message I had just learned: “A child gaining weight cannot be very sick. A child not gaining weight cannot be very well.”

This is a message that Charles Janeway, Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School told his students.

This simple, yet profound statement embodies the work of Calcutta Kids; it provides convincing verbal ammunition against many of the daily battles we fight against long-held superstitions, misinformation, and a general lack of understanding regarding the importance of good nutrition during the first 1000 days.

Explaining the science behind the cognitive and physical developments that occur in the first 1000 days of life depending on nutritional status is nearly impossible for an uneducated mother to understand. Counseling, behavioral change communication, growth monitoring and promotion, and access to healthcare — indeed everything we do at Calcutta Kids — does lead to reaching the objective of good nutrition within the window of opportunity. But the programs and the activities are not enough. In our efforts to get people to care about nutrition, I believe we are underutilizing our greatest resource — the women themselves with whom we work — the true movers and shakers. If these women truly grasp what we are trying to achieve for their children and why they will figure out ways to help others understand the problem; they will take the challenge personally and seriously; and they will ensure that they themselves are well looked-after during pregnancy and will ensure that their children get the nourishment they need at the right time.

There is simply no question that every mother wants what is best for her child. But in order to assure that she provides what is best to her children, she needs to understand and really believe that proper nutrition will make a difference.

We have translated Janeway’s message into Hindi and are promoting it as a sort of mantra for Calcutta Kids. Before long I hope that every pregnant woman and mother we work with will know the mantra — but more importantly will grasp its meaning.

Jab bache ka ho sahi vikas…

To hain ye sehat ka agaaz…

Jo bacha na ho mota Zindagi bhar hain woh rota…

(A child gaining weight cannot be very sick. A child not gaining weight cannot be very well.)

– Noah Levinson

A Mother’s Story

Rekha with Rani at the start of YChiNG and shortly after the birth of Madhu

Rekha Shaw is an out-going, energetic woman who participated actively in the YChiNG trial. Her two youngest children were malnourished and were in a terrible condition when we enrolled them in the program. Rani, at 29 months, weighed 7.31 kg (a little over 16 pounds) with a weight for age z-score (WAZ) of -4.296. Rani was stunted and developmentally delayed—she could not stand up, let alone walk. Her younger sister Madhu was faring slightly better but was still severely underweight: at 16 months, she weighed 6.58 kg (about 14.5 pounds) with a WAZ of -3.3. Both girls were very anemic, had high worm loads, and suffered from frequent acute infections.

Their mother, Rekha, has six daughters, a result of repeated pregnancies in an attempt to have a son. Tragically, she did have a son (born after the first four daughters), but he died just after birth for reasons she does not know. She lives with a mother-in-law who is not supportive and pressures her to bear a son. She also lives with a husband, who drinks and does not care for her or the children. She says, ‘There is nothing good about that man. He does nothing. He beats me.’ As her husband’s income was not sufficient, she began working outside of the home as caretaker (for an ill person) in order to provide for her children.

Rani and Madhu with mother Rekha at the YChiNG graduation

Despite all odds, Rekha was determined to give her youngest daughters a chance to succeed…. and we were determined to help her. After six months in YChiNG, the two girls have made significant gains in growth and development. Rani is still in the severe underweight category but her WAZ has improved to -3.207. Most importantly, she has learned to stand up and now she walks! Madhu’s weight has increased tremendously and she moved from severe to moderate to mild underweight in the past six months, a remarkable achievement. They have both improved in anemia status, have increased appetites, and learned to feed themselves with a spoon. We are so proud of Rekha for her courage, and so pleased to see Rani and Madhu now running, drawing, and playing in our center! -Danya Sarkar

YChinG Graduation Event

Recently Calcutta Kids held a graduation program for children who participated in a 6 month trial to address severe malnutrition in Fakir Bagan. The thirty-three children enrolled in YChiNG (Young Child Nutrition Group) were invited to a weekly feeding and GMP session at the DTC. They had access to the Calcutta Kids pediatrician, free medications and micronutrient supplements, and free routine and follow-up pathological tests. Read more about the YChiNG trial here.

Mothers listen to program coordinator Sumana Ghosh and mother Rekha Shaw

The graduation program marked the close of the YChiNG trial and was an opportunity to celebrate with the mothers and children who had participated in the program. Some children made remarkable strides in weight gain and growth, while those who did not fare as well (mainly due to lack of attendance) were given encouragement and asked to return for weekly meeting sessions.

The graduation program was a fun event that mothers and children enjoyed thoroughly. The MYCHI Program Coordinator, Sumana, talked about the YChiNG program and its impact. She thanked the mothers for participating and working hard to better the nutritional status of their children. Three mothers shared their stories and experiences with YChiNG. Rekha Shaw, whose youngest daughters Rani and Madhu participated, spoke about the improvements she had seen in her girls because of the program. Shanti Shaw, whose son Sujay had been hospitalized a year earlier due to severe malnutrition, described his recovery and how they were assisted by Calcutta Kids. Sabitri Prajapati spoke about her son Ayush who was born with low birth weight and was not growing well until he participated in the YChiNG program.

Mothers and children had lunch together, with mishti (sweets) and tea afterwards. We listened to Hindi music, and watched the children dance. At the end of the program, Calcutta Kids gave each child a colorful melamine bowl and spoon to encourage enjoyable, active feeding at home. -Danya Sarkar