What does it take to save a life?
A health worker
Of Mansa Devi’s four children—all born at home as was village tradition—only two survived. The umbilical cord wrapped tight around the neck of her first daughter, who didn’t have a trained attendant to save her. Mansa’s second baby, a son, died from tetanus when he was just two days old.
So Mansa jumped at the opportunity to become an Accredited Social Health Activist, called an ASHA for short. ASHAs are village women who learn best practices for safe pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care. In turn, they teach their neighbors. In villages without doctors or health centers, they are often the only source of lifesaving information.
With mentoring and supervision from PATH’s Sure Start project, Mansa learned effective ways to share her new knowledge with pregnant women and their family members. She runs mothers’ groups where she uses stories, games, flashcards, and other activities to change behavior. To involve fathers, she gives letters to them with “advice” from their yet-to-be born children. And she makes home visits before and after babies are born.
Neighbor and lifesaver
Gently but persistently, Mansa is changing traditions that, unbeknownst to villagers, endanger mothers and newborns.
“Whenever I visit a house,” Mansa says, “I share how I lost two children. I tell them, ‘I don’t want you to lose your child, too.’” She even painted the warning signs to watch for in pregnancy and childbirth on the walls of the primary school where everyone can see.
Mansa has also become the link between care providers in distant health centers and villagers worried about costs and unaware of government services. When a pregnant woman is ready to deliver, Mansa accompanies her to the health center and serves as supporter and ally.
Bearer of hope
In Sanskrit, the word asha means “hope.” For women who face huge risks in childbirth, that’s exactly what Mansa and her fellow ASHAs bring.
“Before,” Mansa says, “mothers and newborns used to die. But since Sure Start, there are no deaths in the village.”