Giving Compass' Take:

• Dr. Armida Fernandez explains how SNEHA makes an impact on urban health in India through community-building efforts. 

• How can funders use learnings from SNEHA to design urban health solutions in other communities? 

• Learn about the dangers of noise pollution in cities

In 1989, Dr. Fernandez set up Asia’s first milk bank at Sion Hospital. She then went on to start SNEHA in the early 1990s with the aim to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality and gender-based violence. Routinely treating low-income families coming in with sick, premature infants, she wanted to develop sustainable interventions that would go beyond providing stopgap solutions.

What are some of the challenges you’ve seen that are unique to urban areas?

When we started SNEHA in 1999 urban health as an organised system was non-existent. Later, urban health got integrated into the National Health Mission, but things are still happening too slowly. The urban population is growing so fast, health systems need to keep up. The government has plans, they’ve allocated budgets, but translating missions into action is a long-drawn procedure.

What have been some major learnings from SNEHA?

  1. You have to work with both systems and communities if you want to impact the health of mothers and babies. From the beginning itself, we planned to ensure that this has been a continuous process, you can’t work with one and not the other.
  2. You need to put in the effort. For our projects in nutrition and maternal health, we had to go door to door, from house to house, individually working with mothers. This costs more, and requires a lot of people, but if you do it right, everybody gets taught much better, and the results are amazing.
  3. A life-cycle approach is necessary when we look at the health of women and children. Every phase of the mother’s life impacts the health and nutrition of her children, and the generation after that as well.
  4. You need to do your research in a scientific manner to assess the impact of your work, in order to take it to scale and impact policy. We learned that if you want to change policies, you need to put in the research first.

Read the full interview with Dr. Armida Fernandez about urban health by Ayesha Marfatia and Rachita Vora at India Development Review.