In India, nine women die every hour from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, adding up to 78,000 deaths a year. A million babies die annually. This country has the unfortunate distinction of accounting for more than a quarter of the newborn deaths in the world.
There is no dearth of inspiring individuals and organizations that are tirelessly working to tackle this serious problem and bring about positive change. However, while a lot of good work is being done in the country, apart from a few government reports, there is no mechanism to comprehensively capture the invaluable data and wisdom gathered by these organizations and to make it readily accessible. As a result, new projects are often unable to tap the existing pool of experience and use it as a foundation to build upon; instead, they have to start from scratch and operate in the dark.
Sure Start¾five-year initiative based at PATH, an international not-for-profit organization supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation¾recognizes the need for collating and then disseminating information and it has come up with an innovative way of doing so. The project, along with 95 partners in rural communities in Uttar Pradesh and settlements of marginalized people in Maharashtra’s sprawling cities, is one of the organizations working to help mothers and their children to survive and stay healthy.
Each of Sure Start’s partners has a fund of unique knowledge. To manage these partnerships and help collaborators overcome their own obstacles, Sure Start uses an innovative Management Information System (MIS). The system employs a strategy that focuses on partnership, training, standardization in project implementation, and recording of data. Sure Start has established MIS’ in both states—these have grown and flourished with the project’s ambitious work.
In Uttar Pradesh, Sure Start’s partners collect data on a number of indicators related to maternal and newborn health behaviors and access to services. Project personnel are trained to use the MIS. The information collected for the areas in which Sure Start works is specific and precise. It is ultimately collated and made accessible to people at different levels, including government personnel who can use the data to shape effective policies to bring about tangible change.
Since the endeavor is based on sharing knowledge, all the partners can utilize the collected information. The system is designed to continue well after the project concludes.
Sure Start continually works with its partners to improve their capabilities and build their skill in using their systems. These efforts have helped 42 of Sure Start’s 55 partners in Uttar Pradesh receive program funding from both government and private donors.
In Maharashtra, the system tracks approximately 22,000 pregnant women across seven cities. It stores data on the number of home visits, number of expectant mothers contacted for behavior change communication, percentage of expectant mothers who have received the tetanus toxoid vaccine, percentage of births that take place in institutions, etc.
Staying true to its philosophy of decentralization, Sure Start has trained field staff, community health workers, and supervisors in the use of the MIS. It is also collaboratively building its partners’ capacities in areas like advocacy, financial management, and capacity building.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” Gandhi once said. Sure Start’s approach aims to help its partners to give birth to, and manage, this change.
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