High in the Himalayan foot hills, Durga Kumari travels through her village of Bagashwari in her green sari.
“When husbands see me in this sari, they stop to ask me how their wives are doing and how their babies are doing,” she said.
The green sari is the uniform of Nepal’s Female Community Health Volunteers. These volunteers in the Village Development Committee are women who organize mother’s group meetings every month and provide essential health care and health education to women of their respective wards (the smallest administrative unit).
One of Durga Kumari’s biggest responsibilities is the distribution of iron and folic acid tablets to pregnant women under her care and she, along with thousands of volunteers like her, is responsible for the incredible success of the Iron Intensification Program.
MI has worked on the program since its inception in 2003, supporting the training of the volunteers, providing education materials, and conducting periodic evaluation studies.
MI also supports the strong monitoring system that the women use to track the micronutrient intake of pregnant women, including IFA tablets, iodized salt and postpartum vitamin A supplementation.
“If a woman is having trouble taking the tablets, I tell her to take them after her evening meal, before sleeping and not to take them with coffee,” Durga Kumari explained. “I also get the husbands involved; I tell them that the tablets are important for the mothers and for babies. One woman didn’t take them during her last pregnancy and she had difficulty. But I’ve been visiting her often this time; she feels good and things are going much better.”
The reduction in anemia rates from 75 per cent to 42 per cent in pregnant women in Nepal is due in large part to strong support for the program at every level – from the central level to the Chief District Health Officers and the Chiefs of the Health and Sub-health Posts.
It’s due to organizations such as MI, UNICEF and WHO that work with the government to provide funds, training and supplies.
It’s due to the strong commitment of Nepal government for overall implementation of the program.
And it’s due to women like Durga Kumari and legions of Female Community Health Volunteers throughout the country.