In March this year, Sharda Dodhe from Jalna was forced to give birth on a street. The new-born died within hours of delivery as the necessary medical assistance could not reach her.
Like her, over 30 per cent of neonatal deaths in Maharashtra occur due to delay in transport to the hospital or lack of availability in medical services, data from the state public health department shows. In an attempt to prevent deaths of newborns, a dedicated ambulance service will now kick start in the state’s rural areas.
The pilot project is due to begin in Melghat’s tribal belt, in Amravati district, that has reported one of the highest infant deaths (between 0-6 years) in Maharashtra. According to the Directorate of Health Services (DHS), 70 ambulances will be allocated in this area.
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“The emergency medical ambulances under 108 service do not have specific equipment to treat an infant. On several occasions, a warmer or an incubator is required for the baby which is not available in a normal ambulance. The dedicated ambulances will have all equipment necessary to stabilise a neonatal,” said Dr Satish Pawar, director of DHS.
Melghat, with a large tribal population, has also been lacking in intensive care units and availability of specialists. The health department will also appoint a district health officer in Amravati to look after infant mortality issues.
“We have assigned 102 as the toll-free number for this service,” Pawar added.
The ambulances will also have neonatal intensive care units inside them to save a baby’s life in the golden hour. Following the success of the pilot project, the state health department will then extend the service to other districts.
Dr Prakash Trivedi, president of Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society of India (FOGSI), said that the move will be “an ideal solution to curb infant death”. According to data collected by FOGSI, the requirement of NICU admissions is higher in high-risk pregnancy groups and babies born through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedures.
“If there is a neonatal ambulance, then transit time between delivery and intensive care becomes zero. The risk of loss of life becomes minimal because the child is not at infection risk. However, the ambulance must be manned by experts to treat the baby correctly,” Trivedi said.
Currently, Maharashtra’s infant mortality rate (IMR) stands at 25 per 1,000 live births, a drop from 28 recorded in 2010. Maharashtra stands third after Kerela and Tamil Nadu with lowest infant deaths in India.