Fighting Anemia in India

Women in West Bengal work in small groups to discuss how their families and community members can support better nutrition and healthy pregnancies.

If you’re a typical mother in rural West Bengal, you eat last and get the smallest portion at the dinner table. You carefully dish out the best parts of the meal you painstakingly prepared, first to your husband and then to your her children, leaving you with only a bit of sauce and rice. This means you miss out on the iron-rich vegetables or meats the rest of the family is eating.

Unfortunately, this habit increases the chance that you’ll be anemic - a health condition that affects 50 to 60 percent of women in this part of India. On its own, anemia does not seem deadly, but for pregnant women it can cause hemorrhaging during childbirth. Consequently, something as preventable as anemia is costing thousands of women their lives.

We know that a mother’s health often determines her children’s future. With funding from Johnson & Johnson, we have launched a new initiative to help women in West Bengal and neighboring Jharkhand have healthier pregnancies. The Maa aur Shishu Swasthya or MASS program (it means “mother and child” program in Hindi) provides education, including nutrition knowledge, and connects the women to free, local government-run health services.

Designed by Grameen Foundation and our partners, the Freedom from Hunger India Trust and RESULTS, MASS is based on our very successful Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program in the Philippines. 

Our local partners, Bandhan and ADS, are training their field staff to provide maternal health education to expectant mothers and their families to ensure the women get support. 

Our experience shows that sharing information widely about ways to protect the health of pregnant women and their newborns helps to replace harmful habits with best practices. We also work with the members of women’s self-help groups to set up special health savings accounts, ensuring they are able to financially prepare for the birth of their child or meet other critical health needs of her family.

Bandhan and ADS collectively serve more than a million clients and have close connections to government health services, making them ideal partners to reach women across India. Our program is being piloted in two Indian states with the goal of expanding to 12 states. Through careful coordination and a proven program tailored to local needs, MASS is an exciting new opportunity to save the lives of women and babies in India.