Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

How Mobile Vans are Saving Lives

June 06, 2013

As soon as we drove up we saw the mothers wrapped in colorful saris standing out of the scorching sun under the red and white striped awning of Save the Children’s mobile health van outside the slums of Okhla in South Delhi. The mothers had come for quality prenatal care or health care for their children or both. Armed with their personal health cards with meticulous records of previous visits the mothers waited patiently with a child on their hip to see the doctor who manned the air-conditioned mobile health van along with a nurse and lab technician that sweltering morning.

Save the Children Mobile Health Van

In Delhi, a city with nearly 17 million people, Save the Children provides mobile health services to 600,000 people annually in six districts in Delhi. Save the Children’s mobile health van provides an alternative for Delhi’s poorest who live in the city’s many authorized or unauthorized slums to access health care who would otherwise go without.

When Save the Children India selected this spot near the Okhla slums to set up morning and afternoon mobile health services they targeted 800 children and 350 mothers, but 800 mothers came with over 2100 children according to Pranjit Talukdar, Save the Children India’s marketing manager for major donors. From their initial research they didn’t realize the need was so great, but Save the Children continues to provide the mobile health services to all who need them.

Inside the mobile health van is a condensed version of any doctor’s office we would visit ourselves. I walked into the unit just as the doctor was providing prenatal care for a woman who was in her eighth month of pregnancy. The woman had come to the doctor months before because she could not conceive, but on this day she was proudly smiling as we spoke through translation about her first pregnancy.

Outside the van female health workers sat behind tables and weighed babies to see where they fared on the growth chart.  Nearly 50 percent of India’s children are malnourished so these health visits are vital to the health and survival of babies. If a baby or child is determined to be malnourished they are referred to Delhi’s one malnutrition center.

Health Workers at Mobile Health Van

Save the Children’s mobile health van is stocked with over 180 medications including antibiotics and multivitamins. HIV testing and immunizations cannot, however, be administered by health workers in the mobile health van because those services are strictly relegated to the government.

With 29 percent of the world’s first day deaths in India Save the Children is working to bring that number down from 309,000 annually. Through programs such as its mobile health van, Save the Children seeks to supplement government health programs and create alternative models that work that can be scaled and implemented be the Indian government to improve health outcomes and save more mothers and babies’ lives.

In Save the Children’s 14th annual State of the World’s Mothers Report, three reasons were identified that accounted for the high child mortality rate globally including infection, asphyxia, and prematurity. Visits to the mobile health van in addition to education from the anganwadi and asha workers reiterate to expectant mothers the need for hospital births as opposed to deliveries at home. So far, the interventions seem to be working. Hospital births are up in the Okhla slum in part from government monetary incentives to deliver in a health institution, but the numbers can be better. That's what Save the Children is diligently working on.

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