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Mamta vans stuck in mother of all problems

Ranchi, Jan. 17: Bad roads are hindering safe childbirth in rural Jharkhand, as a new report reveals why the state-sponsored Mamta Vahan vehicles can’t reach homes of pregnant women in Ranchi and 14 other districts, making the ambitious effort to facilitate institutional delivery lose its plot.

The disclosure emerges from the findings of a weeklong campaign launched last year on Foundation Day, November 15, by the state government jointly with Civil Society Network for Child Rights (CSNCR).

The network — an assembly of small organisations working together — will hand the report to state soon. So far, Unicef and Cini, which support and mentor the network, have studied the report.

The campaign, which focussed on neonatal and infant mortality and institutional delivery, saw villagers across Sahebganj, Godda, Pakur, Dumka, Deoghar, Hazaribagh, Palamau, Latehar, Lohardaga, Gumla, Ranchi, Simdega, twin Singhbhums and Seraikela-Kharsawan squarely blaming the absence of Mamta Vahans.

In a state that scores only 41 per cent in institutional deliveries, the Mamta Vahan scheme, which started in 2011, looks perfect on paper.

In this, a Mamta Vahan vehicle is supposed to rush a pregnant woman in any panchayat of the state, however remote or poor, to the nearest hospital or health centre for institutional delivery, and drop her home after 48 hours of compulsory hospitalisation.

A person who owns a four-wheeler — the criterion being a pregnant woman should be able to lie down inside it — can register the vehicle as a Mamta Vahan with the respective civil surgeon’s office, which also runs a call centre.

When a pregnant woman’s labour pains are about to begin, she calls up the call centre or the cellphone of the Mamta Vahan driver.

According to norms, the driver is supposed to get Rs 300 for every 6km and Rs 9 for every kilometre thereafter.

But most Mamta Vahans don’t reach homes of women who desperately need it. Either there are too few vehicles, or else roads are not motorable.

In West Singhbhum, people have said difficult terrain prevented the vehicles from reaching home. In Dumka, residents pointed out there were too few Mamta Vahans. Villagers of Simdega and Gumla complained about non-availability of call centre numbers and suggested they should be available at the respective Panchayat Bhavans.

Job Zachariah, chief of Unicef (Jharkhand) field office, said: “We believe there are problems such as difficult terrain or non-motorable roads, but we also need to figure out solutions. At a time when the state records only 41 per cent institutional deliveries, we have to think of better solutions.”

State coordinator of Cini Ranjan Kumar Panda said the campaign tried to see if villagers displayed “health service seeking behaviour” when it came to childbirth.

“Non-availability of Mamta Vahan is a major concern that people pointed out in all the 15 districts. The positive takeaway is that people know there is a service called Mamta Vahan. People look forward to the facility and its availability can bring about changes. But why the Mamta Vahans don’t reach is another story,” he said.

Praveen Chandra, director of health services, said: “There seems to be genuine problems related to Mamta Vahans. While complaints such as inaccessible numbers or few vehicles can be remedied easily, we need to brainstorm on how to reach the hard to reach areas.”