Women's community groups have had a dramatic effect on reducing neonatal mortality rates in some of the poorest areas on India, according to a study published today in the journal the Lancet. The groups provide a cost-effective intervention with added benefits such as reducing significantly maternal depression and improving decision-making amongst the women.
Every year, an estimated four million children worldwide die within the first month of their lives. Less than a quarter of the sixty-eight countries targeted by the Millennium Development Goal 4 (reduction of mortality rate in children less than five years old by two-thirds by 2015) are on track to achieve that goal.
A previous study conducted in Nepal and published by the Lancet
in 2004 suggested that participatory women's groups could achieve a significant impact on neonatal health in poorer countries, far more than one-to-one contact with a health worker. To see if these findings could be applied in other countries, the researchers repeated the exercise in Jharkhand and Orissa, two of the poorest states in eastern India. Neonatal mortality rates in the two regions are 49 and 45 per 1000 live births respectively, disproportionately higher than India's national estimates of 39 per 1000. By comparison, in the UK the figures are 4 per 1000.