MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

Society for Education, Action, and Research in Community Health

Gadchiroli, India | 2006 Award Recipient

Tailoring community-based health care to address the unique challenges of India's rural poor

The Society for Education, Action, and Research in Community Health (SEARCH) saves the lives and health of women and babies in rural India.

It may come as a surprise in this age of technology and high-end health care that mothers and babies still die during birthing. In rural India, in fact, one woman dies every five minutes giving birth to a child. More than 100,000 women die every year due to childbirth-related causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. That rate is 45 times higher than in the United States, nine times higher than in neighboring China, and three times higher than in India’s urban areas. The vast majority of maternal deaths are preventable.

In one of the poorest rural districts in the Indian state of Maharashtra, a SEARCH program trains village women to diagnose and treat newborns for common illnesses. As a result, neonatal mortality in the district declined by an incredible 70 percent over seven years. The program also helped cut the rate of illness in half for mothers during and immediately after childbirth. SEARCH operates public health programs in 39 villages in Maharashtra.

SEARCH combines grassroots field work with sophisticated monitoring, research, and advocacy. Its training and support programs improve the health and well-being of some of India’s most vulnerable residents. It takes those efforts a step further by evaluating the impact of its work and using that information to revamp, redirect or expand its efforts. SEARCH also parlays its deep understanding of effective community health into policies and programs at the state, national, and global levels.

In addition to its commitment to maternal and infant health, SEARCH focuses on reproductive health issues among young people, increasingly critical in an era of rising HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The knowledge SEARCH gains from its continued investigation and analysis will help governments in India develop better tools for informed, effective public education, and it lays the groundwork for further population-based epidemiology and intervention studies that will no doubt save countless more lives.

 

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