By Maya Palit
Uttar Pradesh put a free ambulance service in place five years ago, and another exclusively for pregnant women and babies, to drop them to and from government hospitals. But according to an extensive report by Menaka Rao in Scroll the service hasn’t been all that helpful. Several women in the state (approximately 1.5 million as of October 2016) still prefer to attempt home deliveries according to a survey conducted by Action India, because of a range of factors including shoddy infrastructure at hospitals, or previous negative experiences with bad treatment by the staff. UP, which has the second-highest maternal mortality rate (MMR) in the country (258 deaths for every 1 lakh births, although within the state, the MMR varies considerably) also has the lowest per capita expenditure on health — and this is clearly showing.
Rao’s report shows how this affects women in the state by recounting the stories of multiple women who reached government hospitals smoothly using the ambulance, but were then forced to go to a private hospital because of the lack of blood transfusion facilities to treat their anaemia, or the inability of doctors to deliver the babies after they’ve spent hours in labour. The situation appears to be particularly dire for women who have to have caesarean births, because certain government- run community health centres in districts like Hapur do not offer C-section services.
Another report earlier this month confirmed that this was more or less the situation all over the country: that while hospitals are managing routine deliveries better, ‘high-risk’ cases — involving women who are anaemic (that’s apparently 73.5 percent of women of reproductive age in the country), frail, and have given birth several times — often end very badly. So perhaps the state should direct more funds towards making sure that basic facilities are in place, so that once women are sped to hospitals in ambulances, they don’t have to spend still more time commuting to a referral hospital.