On the Ground in India: Perspectives from American India Foundation’s Clinton Fellows
Every Tuesday morning, instead of walking to the BEMPU office for work, I catch a ride to a children’s hospital in the Southern part of the city. The hospital is a well-known, government-run facility where children who need special attention are often referred. As I make my way to the hospital entrance, I pass by clusters of families that are speckled across the garden. Here, family members sit on the ground, converse, nap, share food out of containers brought from home; mostly, they wait. When a child needs medical attention, it is not unusual for the entire extended family to make the journey from the village to the hospital, prepared to wait until the child is safe to go home
Inside the hospital, I walk past a long line of families trying to get their forms checked and vaccines taken care of. In another hallway, I pass a string of children sitting in their parents’ laps on the floor. Finally, I walk up the stairs to my destination: the OPD (outpatient department) room. I take my position in a chair in the back corner of the room, where I can stay out of the way and simply collect some information, help any parents who are using our device, and of course, observe.
Families with babies who were born preterm, low birth weight, or who suffer from a health problem come here for weekly follow-up visits. They get an individual consultation with one of the two doctors in the room, and their baby is measured for vitals, weight gain and head circumference growth. At the start of the day there is an orderly line of 60+ families trailing out the door, but within an hour, the room is chaotic with no space to move; babies wail as they are undressed on one side; mothers hold their babies tightly while hovering by the doctors, waiting patiently but making their presence known so they can be seen next; fathers carry small bags of medicines and folders of important forms; everyone eagerly seeks the doctors’ attention. In all honesty, the room sometimes gives me anxiety. Nonetheless, I have come to genuinely appreciate my Tuesdays in the OPD.
It is in this room that I’m consistently reminded of the oneness of the human spirit– of the emotions that connect us despite vast differences in experience, language, and perspective. Even when I don’t understand the conversations between the parents and doctors, I never feel out of the loop; I can always feel what the parents are feeling in the moments their child is being examined. I feel their fear when there may be a concern; I feel their sense of inadequacy when the baby hasn’t grown enough in the past week; and alternatively, I feel their pure joy and pride when the doctor approvingly comments on their baby’s development. Most of all, I am touched by the combination of complete exhaustion and unconditional, boundless love coming from these parents–the source of the exhaustion and the recipient of the love both being this little baby who is so unaware of what is even happening in the moment. Despite the fact that sometimes these mornings in the OPD can be draining, I feel extremely privileged to be a witness to these intimate moments between families, and they make me even more passionate about the work BEMPU is doing to protect vulnerable babies from preterm birth complications.
BEMPU, my host organization, is a social enterprise dedicated to radically improving child health outcomes in developing countries by developing and commercializing life-saving technologies. They provide a simple solution to the danger of hypothermia (body temperature falling below 36.5ºC), which is a leading cause for developmental issues, organ damage, and even death of newborns during the first four weeks of their lives – especially in under-resourced hospitals or homes. The solution: the BEMPU bracelet monitors a baby’s body temperature 24/7, and if a baby’s temperature drops, the bracelet sets off an audiovisual alarm so that caregivers know to swaddle the baby or provide Kangaroo Care (skin-to-skin contact), which is usually enough to get the baby back to a healthy temperature. Preventing and catching hypothermia can save up to 42% of neonatal deaths, which is huge considering the highest amount of death amongst children under five actually occurs during the neonatal period from largely preventable issues.
About the Author
Janan Dave earned a bachelor’s degree in Arts, Health and Societies from the University of Pennsylvania. Despite visiting India with her family while growing up in Princeton, NJ, Janan has always dreamt of spending an extended period of time working in India. Before joining the AIF Clinton Fellowship, Janan worked with public health organizations in Philadelphia, and then served as the Director of Community Health at the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute. Pursuing her passion for maternal and child health, she currently serves as an AIF Clinton Fellow with BEMPU Health in Bangalore, Karnataka.
AIF’s William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India builds the next generation of leaders committed to lasting change for underprivileged communities across India, while strengthening the civil sector.