In one of the poorest parts of India, husband and wife doctors Abhay and Rani Bang have saved countless children’s lives with a simple technique – listening to the people.
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, whose Ashram he grew up in, Dr Bang and his wife have revolutionised the approach to healthcare for mothers and babies.
Dr Bang has now flown to London for the launch of Save the Children’s No Child Born to Die campaign, with the hope of inspiring others to follow his lead.
“We began by going to the people, by listening to them and what they needed,” he said.
“Out of desperation we asked ‘What can we provide?’ The only thing that was there in the villages of India was the people, the women themselves.”
By training local village women as community health workers, the doctors have reduced infant deaths in the remote villages around the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra state by about 75% from 121 per thousand to just 30 per thousand.
The community health workers teach the other local women how to recognise signs of illness in their children, so they can seek help.
Cultural taboos prevent women from leaving their homes after giving birth, but there is little in the way of healthcare anyway, and the doctors’ simple approach means help can be found at home. Educating women about the signs of pneumonia, shortness of breathing and coughing, has helped cut the death rate from those who contract the lung condition from more than one in 10 to just one in a hundred.
The Bangs set up their charity SEARCH (Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health) in 1985 and have been funded by Save the Children for the past decade. But their inspiration came from India’s “father of the nation”, Gandhi.
When Dr Bang’s father went to Gandhi and told him he wanted to study economics in the US, the independence hero told him: “If you want to study economics go to the villages of India.” Dr Bang said his father immediately threw away his travel documents and went to live in the villages. “That was still reverberating in my ears,” he said, explaining why he chose to help people in one of India’s poorest regions.