Project

India Casts a Light on Mothers Long in the Dark

Despite rapid economic growth, India remains a land of great disparity. The status of the country's maternal health, which is affected by region, income, education, caste and religion, reflects the nation's socio-economic diversity.

This project assesses India's efforts to improve its maternal health and explore why Assam, a northeastern state known for its beauty yet plagued by high levels of poverty, has the nation's highest maternal mortality rate. Reporter Hanna Ingber Win travels with boat clinics along the Brahmaputra River to visit remote villages that do not have electricity, toilets or roads, let alone health services.

In Muslim island villages, families marry off their daughters as young as 12 years old, taking them out of school, isolating them from their support services and increasing the likelihood of domestic violence and high fertility rates. Girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than those in their 20s. In tribal villages on the other end of the river, impoverished families have been displaced from their homes by land erosion time and again.

These geographically and socially isolated island families depend on boats to access services. If the water levels are too high or low, if night falls or if a boat needs repair, no pregnancy or postpartum emergency can overcome the dictates of the river. The mothers must wait. But not all have the luxury of time.

One Mother's Story: A Casualty of Three Delays

One night in late March, about 24 weeks into her pregnancy, Sulekha Lohar woke feeling ill. Sharing a bed with her husband and two young sons, she felt her chest pounding and her legs swell. She began convulsing. After about an hour, her husband, not knowing what to do, decided to seek help from his parents.

India: Three Wives, 10 Kids Is Enough

The air crackles as a team of medical staff and crew walk across a peanut field, lugging a big generator from their boat into a village of 850 people. Near a collection of thatchroof homes, the crew sets up a projector on the dirt floor of a small bamboo structure that also serves as the community’s schoolhouse.