This blog was written by GHC Government Relations Program Assistant Caitlin Holliday.
NEW DELHI, India — In the days following the Global Health Council stakeholder meeting on maternal, newborn and child health issues here, the GHC team decided to see how you truly “nationalize” global plans through visits to local NGOs and clinics where we were able to listen and learn about what is happening right now on the ground in Delhi and surrounding areas.
While policymakers are busy collaborating to help the Indian government stand by their commitment to the U.N. Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, NGOs and health clinics work tirelessly on the ground with two prominent goals — educate the population about healthy lifestyles and demystify the stigma that is still associated with infectious diseases and cancer in India.
We visited an NGO called MAMTA — which in Hindi means “motherhood” — which is dedicated to advocacy, capacity building, field interventions, networking and research mainly in sexual, reproductive health and HIV issues. MAMTA works to integrate primary care clinics with HIV counseling and testing services, connect patients with quality health care providers and educate youth about sexual and reproductive health.
In 2007, the Indian government banned sexual education from schools and oftentimes sex is a forbidden topic in homes as well. This lack of awareness about sex leads to severe health risks, especially among adolescents. To address this problem, MAMTA encourages messaging that moves away from the word “sexuality” and instead encouraging youth to think about “me, my health, and my body.”
Along with high maternal, newborn and child death rates, India is also plagued with the emergence of non-communicable diseases. Thus, we visited two cancer clinics — Indian Cancer Society and CanSupport.
The Indian Cancer Society offers cancer screenings, surgeries and, most recently, HPV testing. They also offer a mobile clinic to reach patients in more remote areas.
CanSupport focuses on hospice care. 80% of their patients are terminal and, on average, have 2-3 months to live. They have eleven field teams with health care training and offer comfort, support, and spiritual healing to their patients. All are equipped with morphine treatment training. Although these services are all free, only 10 out of 100 cancer patients will accept their help. This is a direct result of the same obstacles that MAMTA faces — stigma.
So what can GHC do to help? We can continue to convene and communicate with our Indian NGOs and bring their messages to Washington and other power centers. We can promote adolescent health and awareness of sexual education and healthy lifestyles and, bit-by-bit, decrease the stigma that is associated with sex, cancer and HIV.
A representative from the Indian Cancer Society said, “We are but a drop in the ocean, but what you [GHC] are doing is global networking.” India is a huge country, but what these NGOs are doing is more than a drop in the ocean, they are serving their community and bringing comfort and hope, patient by patient.