Changemaker:Dr. Marta Levitt

Location:India

I’m playing my part by continuing to inspire and advocate for increased resources to reduce maternal and newborn deaths.

I said, minister, I’m sorry but all women deserve to live whether they have two children or five children.

,.My name is Marta Levitt. I am originally from New York, but I am more of a global person. I have lived in eight countries and done short-term assignments in many other countries.

While I was working in Nepal, I met with a lot of other international organizations, for example CEDPA, and there were many people interested in maternal mortality and neonatal mortality. It was very high in Nepal at the time, so we came together and did the first safe motherhood day.

We ended up doing an event with 25 organizations, got clean delivery kits out to all health posts around the country – so many organizations contributed.  This was such an exciting thing that we said we must continue this, and started what was called a safe motherhood network. And the safe motherhood network was very successful. We actually got the prime minister’s wife; she was our honorary chairperson. From that experience, others heard about it or it became kind of a best practice idea, and that’s where the idea of the White Ribbon Alliance I think emanated from.

I wasn’t in Washington when they actually started the White Ribbon Alliance, I was in India. Once I heard the White Ribbon Alliance established itself, I said, oh my god. Because in India, we had just gotten the national demographic and health survey showing that maternal mortality was actually getting worse in India, not better. I thought I had gone to India, the land of safe motherhood, but I was shocked it was not. So, I sent letters out to UN organizations, USAID partners, NGOs and civil society organizations that we knew. I wanted to introduce them to the White Ribbon Alliance and the idea of maybe having a White Ribbon Alliance in India. So, a hundred people showed up and we had this small office, we had to set up chairs on the lawn outside. It was amazing, every organization showed up and so we had a discussion and agreed that yes, we would like to be part of this White Ribbon Alliance. After that, we started to have regular meetings and wrote to White Ribbon Alliance and said we want to establish a White Ribbon Alliance India. And so they wrote back, that’s exciting, that’s wonderful.

One of WRA’s biggest achievement over the past 20 years was a policy change to allow midwives and nurses to do life-saving skills. At the time, midwives were not allowed by law to do any life-saving skills, no midwifery life-saving skills. So that was quite shocking, and we decided to try to maybe focus on that. A lot of the OBGYNs were kind of against it, but we decided to try and use different approaches, so we worked with the media and took data from the DHS. When we counted the number of women who were dying in India, it was one plane crash every day. That became a huge headline, so we had a lot of meetings with the media, we wrote stories, we talked with the government and then finally decided to do a global conference. At the conference, we only invited countries that had reduced maternal mortality by 50%, so we had all these countries come to this big global conference in India. The Indian minister and high-level officials were there, and they heard from every country how they had reduced maternal mortality and then realized in India, they actually had an increase in maternal mortality.

Before the last day of the meeting, the minister said we need you to come here right now, we are going to announce an initiative where we are going to pay women to deliver in a hospital. She wanted help to write a scheme where women that had two children or less would be getting like 1,200 rupees to deliver in a health facility. I said, minister, I’m sorry but all women deserve to live whether they have two children or five children. I said, let’s wait until later to worry about that but now it should be for all women, we want them to deliver in a health facility, so she agreed. The next day at the conference she announced the Janani Suraksha Yojana scheme, that is still going on today. It just brought so many women to health facilities and forced the health facilities to improve their quality.

Thank youDr. Marta Levitt

for playing your part.

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