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India: let the voices be heard

Today we hosted a public hearing about child and maternal health with 400 mothers and children from some of the poorest communities in Delhi, India. They were eager to share their experiences with an influential panel that included two members of the Indian government’s planning commission, Save the Children staff and health activist Vandana Prasad.

The public hearing is being held in the heart of Delhi, the capital cityportrayed as the beacon of shining India. But this image of India masks the harsh reality for millions of mothers and children living in the slums of this city without clean water and health care.

Mothers and fathers took to the stage and shared their experiences of discrimination and frustration at the complete lack of quality health care, neglect and corruption.

One mother, Munni Devi, took to the stage. She told us about when her child had a fever. Like any other concerned mother she rushed her child to a Government hospital.  She was asked to pay for her medicines but she couldn’t afford them. Later that night her child died. She fought back tears and asked why we even have government hospitals if they do not help the poor?

Another woman Meera then took to the stage.  She had recently been pregnant and wanted to give birth in a hospital. She was refused treatment and sent from ward to ward. She was then asked for a bribe. She gave one bribe but was still not treated. She then went home to the slums and gave birth at 5pm.

Rakhi then asked why there is no piped drinking water in her community? She said that a water tanker only turns up once a week. We know that diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of child mortality but yet people are still denied a basic right such as clean water.

Health activist Vandana Prasad took to the microphone and asked why we still have such inequality after 64 years of independence. Syeeda Hamed, a government representative, said:  “In government we can completely forget about the community.” She said at today’s meeting she had been reminded of the reality.

There are similar public hearings being run by Save the Children in the States of Rajasthan and Bihar this week.  The voices of mothers and children are being heard across the country.

After the public hearings the views of the people will be captured in a charter of demands and handed to the President of India at a global meeting on maternal and child health being held in Delhi this weekend. The meeting is focused on action and must not be allowed to end up a talking shop.

As health experts and government officials discuss how to tackle child and maternal mortality this weekend they must keep in mind the tears that were shed today as mothers shared their testimonies and the anger and sense of helplessness due to the personal injustice experienced by so many.

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