Informing the poor about government provided health, educational, and social services they are entitled to, could go a long way towards improving the health care and education scenario in the developing countries like India, a new study in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association has said.
Madhav Goyal, a general internal medicine fellow at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said, that in developing countries, including India, the public services provided by the central and the local administration seldom reached the people for whom they were meant.
Previous work had shown that a combination of factors, such as non-accountability was partly responsible for this.
In the current study, the team comprising of scientists from The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the World Bank, and Case Western Reserve University, concentrated their efforts on Uttar Pradesh, one of the most backward states in the country.
The researchers first determined which public services were mandated to be available.
Then they randomly selected 105 village clusters-small groups of adjacent villages with a single head and council members.
The team interviewed households in each cluster, taking a baseline reading of residents' knowledge of public benefits and how often household members accessed these services.
Findings revealed that roughly half of the randomly selected villages held informational town meetings where villagers could ask questions related to health issues, including prenatal and delivery care for pregnant women, vaccination for children and the like.
"Our hope was that if village residents knew what their rights were, they would be more likely to demand them from service providers," said Goyal.
A second survey of the households in the village clusters one year later showed significant differences between those that held meetings and those that did not.
Village clusters that held educational meetings reported 30 percent more prenatal exams, 24 percent more prenatal supplementations, 27 percent more tetanus vaccinations, and 25 percent more infant vaccinations, the study revealed.
"With this minimal intervention-holding these informational meetings-people reported better receipt of services they are entitled to," said Goyal.
Goyal said the informational program cost only 4000 dollars, or about 22 cents per household, adding that disseminating the same information by radio and newspapers could cost much lower.
"This strategy could be useful in other similarly-challenged countries. Though the problems aren't as prevalent in the United States, "this type of intervention would still be useful to explore here," he said.