Ranchi, Nov. 2: A whopping 63 per cent of women in rural Jharkhand feel that revealing one’s pregnancy in the early stages attracts the evil eye and though 80 per cent wives want their husbands beside them during antenatal check-ups, they feel it is impractical.
Sombre facts like these were revealed when Unicef went public with its baseline survey results on issues related to maternal and child health, in which 1,523 married women within the reproductive age group of 15-45 took part.
The women, in 84 villages spread across 21 blocks of six districts — Ranchi, Simdega, West Singhbhum, Giridih, Palamau and Sahebganj — answered a survey questionnaire asked by field workers over months, said Unicef (Jharkhand) chief Job Zachariah.
“Attitudes are changing, though slowly,” he said.
The results show that rural women are caught in a mesh of prejudices, practical problems and ignorance, but show a glimmer of progressive thought.
Though 82 per cent of pregnant women got antenatal care at government health centres, less than half (45 per cent) got three or more check-ups.
Though aware of facilities available at government hospitals, two-thirds of the women interviewees felt that hospital delivery was necessary only in case of a complication and strongly favoured “home deliveries”.
But they also voiced displeasure over the “indifference” of healthcare providers, lack of hospital staff around the clock and particularly at night, far-off hospitals and few rural transport facilities, saying they hindered institutional delivery.
Opinions varied on breast-feeding.
Three-fourths of the women interviewed said they fed the newborn honey (40 per cent) or water (27 per cent) instead of breast milk.
Among those who did not give colostrum or the first breast milk, which doctors across the globe say is best for the baby, 40 per cent believed breast milk was “dirty” and another 25 per cent thought it was “unsafe”.
Forty-seven per cent women also felt an ill infant should not get breast milk.
But there were surprise findings as well, which social welfare, healthcare and media policy planners should take note.
A large group of 80 per cent interviewees agreed that girls should be married only after they reached 18 years and should space their children, but at the same time 58 per cent felt that having a baby soon after marriage was “important”.
Sahiyas or women health workers were preferred as advisors on mother and child related matters.
Though crores are spent on communicating health and awareness messages through the media, 64 per cent of mothers had not seen any in the past six months. Among the 36 per cent who had seen them, 48 per cent mentioned TV, 45 per cent wall paintings and 22 radio.
Surprisingly, folk performances did not appear to be a popular mode of communication. A decisive 74 per cent of the women interviewed had not watched any folk performance during the past year.