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Poshan Champions: the real heroes of nutrition

- Shivani Saraf : Behavior Change Communication Expert & Krishna Singh Gohil: District Programme Manager - RajPusht                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Kalpana Kumari, aged 18 years, resides with her family comprising 5 members in Karmala village (in the tribal block of Kherwada, situated over 100 kms away from Udaipur district). She is a first time mother and her baby is 6 weeks old. On this particular day, the young mother was on the calling list of POSHAN Champion Om Prakash. When he contacted Kalpana on her mobile phone, and was going through his regular call script to deliver key COVID-19 and nutritional messages, he overheard her infant crying. With a friendly probe, he tried to understand the reason, when Kalpana mentioned that for the past few days due to the soaring temperatures, her baby’s lips were drying up and even on administering water, her thirsty baby wouldn’t stop crying. Om Prakash instantly got alarmed and informed Kalpana about exclusive breastfeeding. He explained to her that even in the harshest summer months, mother’s milk is sufficient for the baby. At first, Kalpana sounded hesitant and apprehensive, but as Om Prakash continued counseling her, he was able to convince her and her family. But Om Prakash wasn’t entirely satisfied with this result, and so when he made a follow up call to Kalpana after a few days, he was thoroughly overjoyed to learn that she remembered about exclusive breastfeeding and wasn’t giving water to her baby as advised by Om Prakash.

Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Rajasthan continues its endeavor to look after the nutritional requirements of thousands of women like Kalpana and their infants. The State remains dedicated to fight malnutrition across high burden districts, outlined in its 2018 “Social and Behavior Change Strategy to fight under nutrition”. Amongst many initiatives under this strategy, a key one is the deployment of field level community facilitators in Udaipur, termed as POSHAN Champions. These POSHAN Champions serve as an integral link for the end beneficiaries as well as the Anganwadi Workers. Their key responsibilities include; home visits for nutrition counseling, enrollment of eligible beneficiaries into the Centre’s maternity cash benefit scheme and data collection on exposure to SBCC interventions, dietary practices, IYCF and anthropometric measures. With the recent lockdown scenario that severely restricted physical mobility, it was becoming a critical challenge for POSHAN Champions to essay their role. But their indomitable spirit and drive to continue serving the community, coupled with the power of mobile phone technology helped them overcome this obstacle. POSHAN Champions in Udaipur initiated a mobile phone based counseling activity to ensure that their beneficiaries keep getting important nutritional messages specific to their pregnancy/lactation life stage, along with uninterrupted supply of key nutritional services. This proactive initiative was well received not just by the end beneficiaries and their family members, but by the AWWs alike. In a short span of about 2 weeks, the mobile phone based counseling activity has reached over 13,000 beneficiaries in Udaipur. While constant call audits and quality monitoring processes are being institutionalized, the initial records have highlighted some truly laudable positive outcomes. Some of these have been collated, as narrated by end beneficiaries, POSHAN Champions and AWWs.

Meet our next everyday hero; Praveen Kumar who is a resident of Kotda, a remote, tribal block on the Rajasthan- Gujarat border. The block has limited connectivity and proximity to Gujarat has encouraged cross border usage of public health facilities. Praveen works with 50 AWCs located within 15-20 kms from his residence. This is his first job after completing graduation, while his family is engaged in agriculture as a means of sustenance. Praveen navigates severe network connectivity issues to deliver MIYCN advisories over phone.  On 20th May 2020, Praveen reached out via mobile phone to counsel Mira Devi and Madan Lal, a couple expecting their second child. Given the advanced stage of her pregnancy, Praveen advised the couple on institutional delivery preparedness, specifically requesting them to identify an ambulance service to ferry her to the nearest public healthcare facility. Mira Devi had received ante-natal services from a private doctor from Gujarat. However, at around 6 PM on 25th May 2020, when she started experiencing labor pains, travelling inter-state to her Gujarat based doctor became impossible in the lockdown period. With a frantic call, the couple contacted Praveen and sought his help in securing an ambulance service. Praveen promptly got in touch with the frontline healthcare workers and the local ambulance service, ensuring that Mira Devi was transported to the PHC in time. He made his way to their house (situated about 10 kms away from his residence) and made sure that they reached the PHC safely, following the ambulance on his motorbike. Mira Devi had a safe delivery, giving birth to a healthy girl and is grateful to Praveen for his support.

Not just Mira Devi and Kalpana Kumari, but countless other mothers like them remain thankful for the selfless service of Poshan Champions; and for being community heroes of nutrition.

 

About RajPusht: To address Low Birth Weight and Wasting, Government of Rajasthan (GoR) in partnership with Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) is implementing project RajPusht. RajPusht combines two interventions to reduce LBW and Wasting. These are 1) direct cash transfers to pregnant and lactating women to invest in food for self and their young children; and 2) making positive change in knowledge, attitudes and practices around consumption of nutrient dense food by Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers (PW &LM) and children <3 years. IPE Global Ltd is implementing RajPusht in the State.

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