Inter-faith leaders’ dialogue on newborn care and immunization
(May 2, Sanchi, Raisen, Organised by Spandan with support of UNICEF,
According to the Economic Survey 2016-17, the infant mortality rate (IMR) in Madhya Pradesh for year 2014 was 52 as against 39 for India. The rural IMR in MP is 57 against 43 for India while for urban areas it is 35 (MP) against 26 (India).
Similarly, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) for the year 2012-13 in Madhya Pradesh is 221, which is 32.33% higher than the national MMR of 167.
These statistics are indication that there is wide scope for improvement in context of information, education and awareness with respect to maternal and child health care.
The role of mass communication media and communicators for information, education and awareness could not be stressed less. Effective communication can not only increase sensitivity, but can lead to attitudinal and behavioral changes.
It is to be especially stressed that both in traditional and modern media of communication, the leaders of different faith and belief groups are the most effective communicators. Their role as communicators in their respective faith/belief groups and communities is extremely important. These leaders have very effectively communicated serious issues like education, health and sanitation along with religious messages.
As believers of different faith follow their leaders, take their discourses very seriously and try to implement them in life, the messages communicated by the faith leaders assume high importance.
It is on this backdrop that the inter-faith leaders’ dialogue on ‘newborn care and immunization’ was organized to set rolling an initiative where the faith/religious leaders could use different public forums in their purview to communicate the importance of newborn and maternal health care and immunization.
This could bring about a perceptive and much needed change within the community and lead to success of the health care and immunization initiatives.
Following a fruitful discussion on importance of newborn and maternal health care and especially immunisation for bringing up healthy and nourished future generation, leaders of different faiths on May 2 resolved to extend maximum possible support to these initiatives with an aim to bring down infant mortality rate.
About 50 such leaders had gathered at Sanchi as part of ‘faith leaders’ dialogue on newborn care and immunisation’ organised by Bhopal-based NGO Spandan with support of UNICEF, MP. The objective was to enlist support of the faith leaders to reduce neonatal mortality.
The leaders representing faiths and sects of major religions like Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist and Jain agreed that newborn and maternal health care, as well as full immunisation, was of utmost importance to ensure healthy growth of babies and to prevent infant deaths.
They also agreed that the religious/faith platforms could be used to effectively communicate this message to the followers of respective communities. At conclusion they signed the resolution to extend maximum possible support to the government and supporting organisations’ initiatives in this respect.
WHO SAID WHAT
Anil Saumitra, Secretary, Spandan.
To have a healthy, strong and empowered society and country that can make its place in the world, there is a need to pay attention to health of newborn babies and would be mothers too, so that they into healthy individuals and contribute to development of nation.
As for communication, it is changing fast with various media coming up. But the direct human to human communication is the most effective to reach direct and clear messages. New technology and digital media have their own pluses and minuses.
Leaders of various faiths have big effect on big groups of people as they communicate the messages of religion and morality/ethics through their discourses and other programmes.
So we had a thought that if the leaders could take up the issues of social cause and propagate them, the messages would be more effectively spread among people and also they would implement these messages of life.
Last year Spandan and UNICEF organised a faith leaders’ dialogue on sanitation with this objective in view and it had good impact.
This year, we are talking about the important issue of newborn and maternal health care. Due to lack of knowledge, misconceptions, ill beliefs and wrong use of information, MP continues to lag in the field of newborn care.
For MP, the infant mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio are quite higher than national average.
It is important to give out religious and moral messages, but it is also equally important that messages (do’s and don’ts) of social importance also reach people. For example immunisation is one of the most important interventions. Earlier there might have been alternatives, but in present time such interventions cannot be neglected.
Different religious texts and tenets already speak about the importance of newborn and maternal health care but it is important that the faith leaders spread these messages through available platforms.
Manish Mathur, programme manager, UNICEF
Together we can give healthy and nourished future to the children of our state. We hope that through this dialogue, we can set up some action points for this. There are two important points for the ensuing discussion: First is how to reduce the newborn deaths in Madhya Pradesh to acceptable levels and second is how to use immunisation to help in saving children and increase their immunity.
In this context, the messages that you (faith leaders) give out to your followers become very important and we feel that without your support it is not possible to ensure healthy future for the children of state.
In Madhya Pradesh, every year 1, 16, 820 children die before their 5th birthday, out of these, 64,063 new-borns die within one month of their life and these infants could be saved through proper community-based interventions. We urge the faith leaders to support in this regard.
During last few years, many initiatives have been taken by government of India and government of MP for reducing infant and maternal mortality and there have been positive results. However, there is yet a lot of ground to cover.
Technically, the main reasons of infant and maternal mortality are: pre-term birth and low birth weight of children. To prevent both of these, it is necessary to equip and counsel the mothers, family members and front line workers of health department.
Through proper care of pregnant women, the pre-term births could be and is being reduced as about 80% of the births are now institutional (in hospital).
Similarly vaccine preventable diseases are biggest causes of death among children and immunisation can play a big role in this regard. The worry is that yet about 50% children in MP are not fully immunised.
Immunisation and health care services are available through anganwadis and health care centres and if the faith leaders can give out messages and direct their followers to make use of these services, especially immunisation, many diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea that cause infant deaths could be prevented.
Also, if we want healthy child, we should ensure maternal health and for this, messages to stop early marries and pregnancies. This can be achieved by simple community based interventions in which the faith leaders can play important role.
Also the care of newborn babies after they reach home is very important. There should be minimum handling of the babies for a month and the child should be in close contact with mother and get proper breastfeeding.
We urge the faith leaders to send out all these messages to their followers to give safe future to our children.
We also are looking at setting up an informal all-religion committee or body that can advocate safe and healthy future for children irrespective of religion and we seek your support in this regard.
Gauri Singh, principal secretary, health department, GoMP
Through many efforts, the health department has been able to put facilities and services at place. There is a sub-health centre available for every 5000 population, a primary health centre for every 30,000 population, a community health centre at block level, civil hospitals at big tows and district hospitals at all district hospitals.
However in context of maternal and newborn care, the sub-health centre was most critical unit and the front line workers, mainly Auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) were very crucial village contacts.
But unfortunately sometimes these crucial links turned out to be most weak and this led to disconnect with the community. We are trying since last one year to strengthen and empower these front line workers.
However, unless the community connects with the programme and the ‘supply-driven’ nature of the facilities and services turns into ‘demand driven’, the newborn and maternal health care objectives were difficult to achieve.
This connect cannot be easily achieved by the government, but the faith leaders had large following and people took their guidance seriously, they should come forward and propagate messages to the people. In this way we can achieve preventable-disease death free society like polio and tetanus free status was achieved.
The faith leaders can make emotional appeals that can lead to much needed attitude and behavioural changes among people and we can hope to see all children cross five years of age and contribute to a progressing society.
The newborn babies cannot talk about their problems and issues and therefore I am thankful to the organisers for taking up the issue on their behalf. I would like to put forward some key messages that could be propagated by the faith leaders
- Ideal breastfeeding practices (within first hour and exclusively for six months), completion of immunisation cycle of two years and special care of per-term/low birth and malnourished babies.
REPLIES TO SOME QUERIES BY PARTICIPANTS (By Gauri Singh):
- The health department would be organising ‘Saas-Bahu sammelans’ (mother-in-law, daughter-in law meets) to involve the families of newly married couples into the concept of safe pregnancy and newborn care
- To achieve to nurture and stress importance of natural bonding of mothers and newborn babies, the health department introduced the ‘Kangaroo mother programme’ where mothers are counselled about proper care and importance of holding babies close to them and proper breastfeeding
- Database on pregnancies, newborn babies and immunisation has been strengthened and the frontline workers like ASHA/ANMs are to be provided with tablets for proper tracking of the status of the mothers and children. Also SMS reminding parents about immunisation dates would be sent out from this year
- We welcome the suggested to distribute booklets on healthy and safe pregnancy and childcare during mass marriage ceremonies. We would take it up as possible
WHAT FAITH LEADERS SAID
Balbir Das of Chiktrakoot said that connecting faith leaders to the newborn care initiatives was laudable and the leaders could use their discourse platforms to propagate the information and importance of the issue.
Bhakti Niskama Shanta Maharaj from Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Institute, Bangalore said that the concept of modern education that human body was just made of chemicals and no emphasis on the spiritual aspect has affected human bonding negatively and this also reflects on newborn care.
Bhopal Shahar Qazi Mushtaq Ali Nadvi said that children were the greatest blessings and source of joy for human beings. However the changes in culture and lifestyle of people have adversely impacted the care of newborn babies. He said prayers for a healthy child, and freeing pregnant women and mothers from other responsibilities including earning, are important for proper newborn care.
Shia leader Syed Azhar Hussain Rizvi said that natural had accorded specific responsibilities of child care to mothers and fathers and any interference in these roles could cause problems. Therefore if the mother and the father take on their respective responsibilities properly, newborn care could be achieved. He also said that women should be made part of such discussion in greater numbers as they were most crucial for childbirth and for proper care of the newborn babies.
Amjad Anjum of Anjuam-e-Musalmin said that Holy Quran spoke of safeguarding of child right from the time it is in womb of mother. He talked of the initiative of Bhopal Shahar Qazi to speak against dowry while solemnising marriages that brought about changes in society and said similar initiatives could be taken for newborn and maternal health care issue too.
Gyani Harjit Singh of Shahjehababad Gurudwara, Bhopal said that initiatives should be taken at ground level by fighting illiteracy and training basic health workers.
Surya of Sanchi University of Buddhist-Indic studies also highlighted importance of basic teachings of good life to achieve proper newborn care.
Brahmakumari B. K. Reena emphasised on guidance to would be mothers to understand their responsibilities and have proper mental frame during pregnancy to give birth to health children safely. She mentioned about some workshops (Garbhadhan Sanskar) for would be mothers conducted by the Brahmakumaris Ashram for this purpose.
MS John of Methodist Church shared that they seek information from all parents coming for baptism of their children’s health care, particularly immunisation and this system could be followed by other faiths too. He said that the church looked into the immunisation chart for the children till the age of 5, but now that he came to know that immunisation continues up to 14 years of age, this point would be taken into consideration too.
Vipin Jain, who represented Jain community, said if the concept that all humans have possibilities to attain Godliness is understood, each child would be nourished and protected.
Father Shaji of Archdiocese of Bhopal also called for proper use of religious/faith platforms to propagate importance of newborn health care.
Ramesh Sharma of Parashuram Janmasthali, Janapao, offered the venue during special occasion to hold awareness camps on maternal and health care.
Anupam Tiwari of Art of Living Institute highlighted the importance of the father taking up the responsibility and active role in maternal and health care.
Theatre artist Sanjay Mehta said that it would odd for faith leaders to talk about maternal and health care during religious discourses, but the religious/faith-based organizations could offer their premises/event venue to propagate the messages.
Social worker HaziZebunissa Qureshi stressed the importance of creating awareness about the issue among the women and spoke of the role she and her organization played in it.
Rajesh Kumar Mishra of Atal Bihari Hindi University spoke about the various ‘sanskaras’ in Vedic scriptures that ensured healthy pregnancy, safe childbirth and healthy growth of babies. He mentioned that pregnant woman was given utmost priority in all spheres according to scriptures.
Bhakti Vijnana Muni Maharaj from Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Institute, Bangalore spoke about the spiritual concept of pregnancy and birth and how the child could imbibe good values while in the womb of mother. He therefore stressed the importance of proper food, medicines and psychological frame of mind of the mother to ensure healthy birth and growth of the baby.
Baidyanath Labh of Sanchi University of Indic-Buddhist Studies said that there should be no difference between girls and boys while taking care of them and religion never gave a secondary status to the girls.
** Mital Sanket Shah, Health Officer UNICEF, Madhya Pradesh responded to the queries and spoke on the importance of early care of the new born. She emphasised that there was no connection between breastfeeding and normal/caesarean childbirth and in both cases ideal breastfeeding practices should be followed.
Dr Sarita Verma and Dr Ashwin Bhagwat of state health department made presentations on newborn care and immunisation respectively.
Senior journalist Girish Upadhayay coordinated the dialogue. Laxminarayan Pande conducted the proceedings. UNICEF communication specialist Anil Gulati was instrumental in organising the event.
“Interreligious Dialogue on Newborn Child Care and Immunization’” on May 2, 2017 at Sanchi (Raisen), Madhya Pradesh,
Report Prepared By: Sumangala Devi Dasi, Ph.D.
The Bhopal-based NGO ‘Spandan’ in collaboration with UNICEF organized an one day conference “Interreligious Dialogue on Newborn Child Care and Immunization’” on May 2, 2017 at Sanchi (Raisen), Madhya Pradesh, India. Dr. Anil Saumitra from ‘Spandan’, elaborated the objectives and the purpose of this ‘Interreligious Conference’. The main objective of this conference was to explore how religious wisdom can help us towards a proper newborn child care and thus in the process of cultivation of well brought-up members for a healthy society. The program saw slideshow presentations by doctors connected with UNICEF. After this the opinions of the invited faith leaders were discussed.More than 50 religious Leaders from different faith and beliefs like Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist and Jain had participated in this Interreligious Conference on Newborn Child care.
Sripad Bhakti VijnanMuni Maharaj, Ph.D. and Sripad Bhakti Niskama Shanta Maharaja, Ph.D. from Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Institute, Bangalore had been invited as Keynote speakers for providing their important insights on the Newborn Child care from the perspective of Vedantic wisdom.
Sripad Bhakti Niskama Shanta Maharaja, Ph.D. emphasized that to teach that Man is simply an enclosed membrane of chemicals (even though till date no scientist could produce even a single blade of grass in their sophisticated laboratories) affects how people think about themselves as spiritual beings, and thus it influences the way they think about such concerns as abortion, euthanasia, bioethics in research and medicine, cloning, genetic modification of food, animal rights and so on. Our attitude is shaped by the way our education has conditioned us to think about the world. Many young people have confessed that they became atheists due to the teachings of the theory of evolution – even those who were formerly theists. This produces a loss of faith in religion, which comes with a whole tradition of moral teachings. Thus materialism in science does lead to moral degradation. Moreover, prime focus of our modern educational system is to acquire basic interpersonal communication and technical knowledge in their particular field so that they can earn a livelihood for themselves and live a comfortable life. Dr Shanta said that the ancient school systems’ main focus was to satisfy the spiritual quest – athato brahma jijnasa (Vedantasutra1.1.1) and longing for spiritual development, to uplift oneself, without livelihood based motivations. In such a wholistic education children were trained (about activities of eternal souls and their eternal relationship with god) from the very beginning about their spiritual nature and thus they were also properly informed about the real goal of human life, which is much beyond mere immediate biological needs (mere animal propensity: eating, sleeping, mating and defending). This is the major difference between modern and ancient educational systems and the one sided materialistic education in present time has caused a change in the attitude of parents towards their Newborn Child.
Bonding is the formation of a mutual emotional and psychological closeness between parents and their newborn child. The psychological bonding of mother with her child begins before the birth of the child and understanding of the origin of this psychological bonding is beyond the comprehension of material concept of life in modern science. The physical dependency of the fetus with the mother creates a basis for emotional and psychological bonding after birth. This attachment provides the foundation that allows babies to thrive in the world. When the umbilical cord is cut at birth, physical attachment to the mother ceases, and emotional and psychological bonding continues. A firm bond between mother and child affects all later development, and it influences how well children will react to new experiences, situations and stresses. In recent time several parents do not feel that affection and love (for example, professional hiring of surrogate mothers) because they are educated to uplift their standard of livelihood and not the responsibility towards the proper upbringing of their children. Dr Shanta highlighted that following modern education if parents think that their newborn child is a mere enclosed membrane of chemicals then how they can develop any bonding with their Newborn Child. Dr Shanta expressed that his siksha Gurudev Sripad Bhakti Madhava Puri Maharaja, Ph.D. is very much concerned about the degradation of the modern society due to the manipulation of people’s mind with materialistic education from a very tender age. Sripad Bhakti Madhava Puri Maharaja, Ph.D. feels that if the children are allowed to receive an education on how to lead a God centered life of dedication (devotion) then our modern society can be saved from all the unwanted problems that are coming from the material life of exploitation.
American pediatricians John Kennell andMarshall Klaus did pioneered scientific research on bonding in the 1970s. Working with infants in a neonatal intensive care unit, they noted that infants were taken away from their mothers immediately after birth for emergency medical procedures. These babies remained in the nursery for several weeks before being allowed to go home with their families. Although the babies did well in the hospital, a troubling percentage of them seemed not to prosper at home and were even victims of battering and abuse. Kennell andKlaus also noted the mothers of these babies were often uncomfortable with them, sometimes not believing that their babies had survived birth. Even mothers who had successfully raised previous infants have special difficulties when their children had been in the intensive care nursery. Kennell andKlaus surmised the separation immediately after birth interrupted a fundamental relationship between the mother and the new baby.
Sripad Bhakti Vijnan Muni Maharaj, Ph.D.pointed out that while one must take the advice of the medical fraternity very seriously, we must also try to harmonize the religious wisdom of Vedic concept of childbirth and care to the extent it may be possible. Specially, according to Srimad Bhagavatam child’s consciousness develops tremendously from the seventh month. So at that time spiritual messages, songs, books etc must accompany the mother. Such a process will make for a child endowed with more spiritual values like faith in God, compassion, tolerance etc. that are necessary for healthy citizens. The importance of good association is paramount in the process. The importance of Garbadhana was also mentioned. Especially, he said “our gurudev Sripad Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja, Ph.D., mentioned several times that the soul first enters through the mind of the father and then comes to the womb of the mother during conception. Therefore the mind of the parents must be trained for begetting a good child and that is called garbhadhana samskar.” This includes increased chanting of the holy names of God, serving the devotees and spiritual master. If the parents are such then there is a good reason for them to beget a child with higher consciousness. Of course we are not independent in this and depend on the mercy of God.
Mrs. Gauri Singh, Principal Secretary of health department, UNICEF, Bhopal explained the current situation of Newborn Child care. She said that the facilities and services of the health department are available but the connection of the community was somewhere missing. She has agreed with the concerns raised by Dr Shanta and said that the bonding between mother and child is natural. It is unfortunate that we are witnessing a situation now where we have to try to help parents develop this boding mechanically. Because of the influence of modern materialistic education the parents are running away from their own responsibilities. She said, everyone should respect and follow the proper teachings of religious leaders and if they will guide the public regarding this awareness then people will follow them sincerely.
She also recommended the breastfeeding practices. In a Media report dated 20 May 2016, Dr Francesco Branca, WHO Director of Nutrition for Health and Development, WHO,said that an estimated 8,20,000 children die every year because they were not breastfed in line with WHO recommendations that is, fed nothing but breast milk for 6 months, after which they should continue breastfeeding as well as eating other foods until 2 years of age. He also said that a child who is not breastfed for his or her first 6 months of life is more than 14 times more likely to die compared to a baby who gets breast milk only. He concluded that breastfeeding has major benefits for mothers’ health too, by reducing rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and type 2 diabetes. BecauseColostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy, is recommended by WHO as the perfect food for the newborn, and feeding should be initiated within the first hour after birth. He said that breastfeeding can also protect a Newborn Child from diarrhoeal diseases, pneumonia and undernutrition. Overcrowding, food insecurity, unsafe water, poor sanitation, and overburdened health systems all contribute to a more dangerous situation for Newborn Child, but if they are breastfed they can maintain their immunity even in these worsened situation. In the same report Mr Werner Schultink, Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF, said that humanitarian organizations must protect, promote, and support breastfeeding in emergencies.
Mr Manish Mathur, Officer In Charge, UNICEF, Madhya Pradesh, shared a report on Madhya Pradesh. He said that 1,16,820 children died before they turn to five year of age and 64,063 died within one month of their birth due to improper care of Newborn child. He also recommended breastfeeding and immunization for Newborn child. Mr Mital Sanket Shah, Health Officer UNICEF, Madhya Pradesh, emphasized the importance of Newborn Child care. Mr Anil Gulati, Communication Specialist UNICEF, Madhya Pradesh, emphasized the need of a common platform for Religious leaders for the proper direction of the Society. Dr Sarita Verma andDr Ashwin Bhagwat, State health department, presented their views on Newborn Child care immunization necessity.
Many more religious leaders also participated representing different faiths and belief systems: Shri Balbir Das from Chiktrakoot, Shri Shia leader Syed Azhar Hussain Rizvi, Shri Gyani Harjit Singh, Shahjehababad Gurudwara, Bhopal, Shri V. Surya, Sanchi University of Buddhist-Indic studies, Brahmakumari Reena, Mr. MS John of Methodist Church, Shri Vipin Jain, Father Shaji, Archdiocese of Bhopal, etc. Form the religious point of view, all leaders from the Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths agreed that a child cannot be considered merely as a chemical system. Rather there is a divine principle at work behind the process of childbirth. The Muslim leader said that as long as even one child is born in the world, it means according to Koran that the Lord (Allah) is still caring for mankind and there is hope that mankind can progress towards higher spiritual destiny. However, they stressed that newborn must be cared for by mothers very meticulously and regretted that so many mothers do not find enough time nowadays. The Christian leaders also echoed similar concerns and said they invite the doctors for doing their work and informing the requirements to their communities.
Although the doctors were quite skeptical of the procedures of some of the faith concepts, they were very much in knowledge that the faith leaders are respected among the common mass and have a reach that the medical community could well utilize. It must be pointed out that the Aanganwadi program of the Govt. of India has done a tremendous work in rural as well as the urban areas to bring technology, medical fraternity and common man together. There work deserves much appreciation. The faith leaders also challenged the lack of understanding of the principles of spiritual conception of childbirth among the doctors and hence it seems that both sides must work together to see an improvement in their common goal.