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Last month, I was invited to TEDx Delhi. (Thank you Daniel Lak!) TED is a nonprofit organisation devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’. Events under the ‘x’ banner are organized locally , but follow the same  approach. TEDx Delhi is a collaboration between the ‘Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’ and TEDx. Innovative approaches to deliver crucial health services developed and implemented in India was the focus of TEDx Delhi.

Manoj Kumar is founder and CEO of Naandi Foundation. Naandi Foundation provides food, safe drinking water and education to over five million poor in India. Naandi is on the verge of releasing a first ever Hunger and Malnutrition (HUNGaMA)  report on the nutrition status of children in 100 rural districts of India. He discussed data as a critical tool in creating change.

Naandi’s team of researchers interviewed nearly 1,00,000 mothers in 84000 rural households. Their main challenge was to get mother’s talk in areas where India’s most malnourished children live. It was found that mothers did not understand what ‘malnourishment’ meant. “My child is normal, playing, and there are so many other children just like my child” was the typical response. Privileges and rights were not available for women. Women would resume their usual hard work on 2nd or 3rd day of delivery. Almost all habitations do not have access to clean water. A girl marrying between fifteen to seventeen years is common. There is a correlation between mother’s education and child’s malnourishment. The most recent National Family Health Survey was conducted in 2005-2006 and currently when there are preparations to draft a Food Security plan, absence of real-time data on child nutrition is a hindrance. Manoj was wondering if  cloud computing could be one of the options to obtain real time data from Aanganwadi’s across India.

Vishwajeet Kumar directs the Center for Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health, Habitat for Global Health in Shivgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. He has been working closely with rural communities to co-develop simple yet effective solutions that can empower families to save their mothers and newborns. He uses a unique multi-disciplinary approach, unifying science with local wisdom and rigorous evaluation through large-scale social experiments. The Shivgarh model demonstrates the power within communities to reduce neonatal mortality by over 50%. He discussed achieving change within a cultural context.

“Common assumption is that giving people information will lead to desired changes in behavior. A low literacy rate does not mean that communities are “empty cups” that can be filled with new knowledge. In fact, they have been extensively schooled, but in a completely different way; their education is based on traditional knowledge and practices handed down over centuries by word-of-mouth. Ignoring this reality is a recipe for failure. The socio-cultural context and worldview of communities has to be very carefully integrated into the design of behavior change interventions.”

Infant warmer. Image source: http://tech.nepalko.info

Peter Singer is CEO of Grand Challenges Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people in developing countries by integrating scientific, technological, business and social innovations. He discussed scientific, social and business innovations in women and children’s health.

Some examples mentioned include ‘Embrace’, a sustainable social enterprise addressing the issue of global infant mortality. Embrace has created a low-cost infant warmer for the developing world where expensive incubators are not available.

1298 was set up in 2004 by a group of young professionals determined to reduce unnecessary deaths in emergency situations in India.  1298 has commissioned over 90 life support ambulances (which include a defibrillator, ventilator, E.C.G., and cardiac monitor) in Mumbai, Kerala and Bihar.  The company has made an impact in saving over 50,000 lives in Mumbai alone. 1298 has a cross-subsidy model, where the wealthy pay a premium and in turn, subsidize the poor with free service.

Sushma Devi Vishwakarma serves as an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker in village Babaganj of India. She works directly with mothers and their family disseminating critical information on maternal and neonatal health. She discussed her personal experience as a government-recognized Accredited Social Health Activist. When she started her work, she was criticized by the villagers, but once they realized her importance, she has been the go-to person for their health issues.

Melinda Gates is co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She spoke about the challenges of maternal and child malnutrition, the benefits of working with private sector health providers, and the need to develop and deliver new technologies to solve old problems.

All speakers were informative and inspiring. They not only stated the problems, but offered creative solutions. They led by example. I would strongly suggest you to attend a TEDx event if given an opportunity. They are inspiring for those of us who insist on making a change to make the world a better place.

Websites of interest: www.grandchallenges.org – Currently accepting proposals for grant opportunities on health topics.

www.ted.com/talks – Talks worth your time.

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