Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Saturday, July 4, 2009

India is country of contrasts – one of them being dire poverty in the backyard of the glimmering facade of economic growth. The country is home to both the most billionaires in Asia and 34% of the world's malnourished children. In terms of infant mortality rate, India trails countries like Eritrea, Haiti and North Korea. In an attempt to fight the Indian government recruited an army of more than 400.000 voluntary health workers in rural areas called ASHAs.

The history of development aid is not short of failures. Malaria nets turn into fishing nets or wedding dresses and ultra-light, carbon-emission friendly aluminum solar cooking stoves end up as toilets. The lesson learned is that supply is necessary but not sufficient – beneficiaries need to demand these services. (Every problem comes down to supply and demand remarks the economist in me with a complacent smile.) Beside providing basic medical treatment and administrating drugs, every ASHA’s job is to raise awareness about medical services like immunizations.

Our team evaluates a UNICEF project that aims at supporting and training these health workers. Basically, ASHA as member of the VHSC is supervised by ANMs and AWWs to provide IMNCI under NHRM - if there is any question left just look at the chart. We spent the first few weeks trying to understand the acronyms thrown at us. The next two weeks we will be in the field, going from village to village, interviewing health workers, having focused group discussions with the community and observe ASHA’s work.     

…by now you’ve probably noticed this blog is not about on rock 'n roll. It was just a cheap catchy header (which apparently worked on you). Come on… would you have clicked on the blog if it would have been titled "Quantitative Analysis of Reproductive Health Intervention“? And now that you are halfway through the post you may just as well continue…

Let me tell you a bit about ASHAs. Before our first encounter we tried to come up with ice-breakers since we expected a group of shy, reticent women, intimidated by white people… look at the video at what actually happened. Right after that impressive performance we were urged to join them on the dance floor. Thanks to the lessons from our Indian MPAID-crew back home, I did get some “woo-hoos" (ok, only claiming that because nothing was documented). Anyhow… in development there is a lot of talk about capacity building and empowerment... concepts whose popularity is mainly owed to its vagueness. I’m not really sure what it means to me, but seeing women explaining how they council families on contraceptives and family planning (if anyone was blushing it was me) is certainly one sign of empowerment in rural India where women are still deprived of many personal rights, economic opportunity and social equality. I’m curious what the next 2 weeks will bring. Some field stories will make it on this blog for sure. Namaste.   
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