Earlier this year, I traveled to India and Malawi on two learning trips to see remarkable social innovations saving the lives of women and children. I want to take you behind the scenes on my trips to see this lifesaving work.
At a research site in Raebareli, one of the most remote parts of India, I got to talk with some of the young women, and also with the mothers-in-law.
One of them talked to me about the fact that she had had eight children, and six of them had died. She said, “I know now the reason that six of them died. I cut the cord with a sickle from the field.” And she said, “Once I learned to use a clean razor blade, two of my children lived. And I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen to my daughter-in-law and the other women in this village.”
That’s the power of getting women together to talk about how cultural practices make a big difference.
A lot of people think that our foundation is about innovations in science, technology, and biotechnology, and that’s absolutely true. But we also believe that there’s another type of innovation that is just as important, and that is social and cultural change. We need to talk to women in a way that appreciates their culture, but also helps them understand what will keep their children alive.
Through gathering women together and talking with them about cultural practice—that if you teach women to not wash their baby when it’s first born, to keep that baby wrapped up and warm, and put it on their chest and “kangaroo care” it—they have literally decreased infant mortality in this district by 54 percent over 18 months.
In Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa, I was impressed by the continuum of care provided.
I met about 40 women who were waiting at the Dowa District Hospital. It was so interesting to talk to these women, because they are such palpable evidence of the real impact these changes are having. I literally saw mothers and babies who would not have been alive today if it weren’t for the improvements Malawi is making in these areas. I talked to one mother who had had a breech baby. If she’d been in the village or on the road, she would not be alive.
Bill and I feel that even though the world has made progress and has gotten the deaths of children under age five down to nine million a year, those deaths are still tragic, and they’re still completely avoidable. We feel that we shouldn’t live in a world where there are still nine million children dying a year. This is a place that we know we want to focus on. We think that we and a lot of partners can make a huge difference.
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