Women at our clinic waiting to be seen.
On this second post I’ll give you a brief introduction to the project. The Mata Jai Kaur Hospital is actually named after my great grandmother on my mom’s side, Jai Kaur, who, along with my great grandfather, Ram Jas, and his two brothers immigrated to the Ganganagar region of northern Rajasthan back in the late 1920’s (keep an eye out for a future post on the history of this region). They settled in the village of 35BB where the project is now located (villages were named after irrigation canals – all the villages in the immediate area draw water from the ‘BB’ canal).
At the moment we have a small clinic running at the site that provides prenatal care for pregnant mothers and general gynaecological care for women. The clinic is open once a week on Sundays and patients are referred to our partner hospital, Sihag Hospital in Ganaganagar, for deliveries, lab work and tests. We are in the process of designing and constructing the main MJK hospital which will provide full maternal and child health services on site, removing the need for patients to travel to Ganganagar for deliveries.
The two-room clinic is named after my grandmother, Kartar Kaur, who delivered 9 of her 10 children in a small mud-walled room on the very spot that the clinic now stands. Kartar Kaur died from complications after the birth of her 10th child, my uncle Baldev (Deep) Shergill, leaving the responsibility of raising him to his grandparents, Ram Jas and Jai Kaur. Both Mata Jai Kaur and Mata Kartar Kaur passed away on the very plot of land where the MJK hospital project is being set up. The project is a reflection of their love and sacrifice, and is dedicated to women of the Ganganagar district of Rajasthan, many of whom are suffering through the same childbirth-related issues that my grandmother faced over half a century ago.
Although most of the family has now emigrated abroad, we still have family that live in or around 35BB and who are intimately involved with the project. Having close ties to the community is very important and a huge benefit for us. Even though the project is funded externally (for the moment), there is a large amount of local ownership and influence on how things go – this is about as grassroots and locally-run as a joint Canadian-Indian project can be.
The hospital is meant to serve poor families in the surrounding area that would otherwise not have access to quality health services. The need in the area is great. The closest government hospital is in city of Shri Ganganagar which is about 50km away – a very difficult distance to travel if you do not have a car – and local health centres do not have adequate facilities. Consequently, pregnant mothers often deliver at home in unhygienic environments with no access to medical help in the event of an emergency. Many mothers will also not receive prenatal care meaning that many preventable issues – like anaemia and malnutrition – are not addressed.
These issues bear out in the statistics. Rajasthan’s infant mortality rate is 65 deaths of child under 1 years-old out of 1000 births (worse than the rest on India, which is about 55 per 1000 births). The rate for the poor rural women we are serving is likely even worse. In comparison, Canada’s infant mortality is 5 deaths per 1000.
Maternal Mortality Ratio is the ratio of the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. MMR is often used as a measure of the quality of a health care system. India’s rate is 254/100,000 and Rajasthan’s is 388/100,000. In comparison, the average MMR for developed countries is around 20/100,000. The major causes of post-partum maternal death are severe bleeding and hemorrhage, infections, unsafe abortions, eclampsia (seizures or coma that occur during pregnancy) and other complicating issues like anemia and malaria (both of which are common in the area). Again, it’s safe to assume the specific region we serve has worse rates because of the limited access to quality facilities.
In the coming weeks I’ll be discussing more about the problems women face in this region, the cast of characters working on the project, and our ideas for the future. Stay tuned!
Sign on the main road directing visitors to our clinic.
35BB at dusk looking south – the tall building in the background on left is part of the MJK hospital project
Women patients leaving our clinic after a visit.
Here you can see the clinic on the right and the house in the background. The open space in the middle is the future site of the MJK hospital.