The Maternal and Child Health Center: COVID Response and Relief Activities

The Johns Hopkins Maternal and Child Health Center in India (MCHI) has a mission to accelerate public health capacity in maternal and child health, and reduce gaps in knowledge translation through capacity strengthening that will ultimately reduce mortality and morbidity and improve the lives of mothers and children in India. The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating consequences on families and societies in India.

The MCHI works alongside the Johns Hopkins India Institute, who formed a  COVID-19 Task Force to raise awareness, respond to current needs, and coordinate activities, services, and opportunities to address the COVID-19 pandemic in India. Below are illustrative activities of COVID Response and Relief, supported by funds generated from the Johns Hopkins India Institute.

India’s Second Coronavirus Wave: An Urgent Summons To Protect Women And Children

A Director’s Message (June 2021)

Dr. Anita Shet

By Anita Shet, Director of Johns Hopkins Maternal and Child Health Center, India

The second pandemic wave caught India unawares. The COVID-19 pandemic was in full force this time, sparing no one. Every family I know, including mine, has suffered death, severe illness, and despair in not getting basic health care. And this time, its ferocity swept ever more children into the depths of tragedy. Deaths were unprecedented between April and May, with India contributing over 30% of COVID-19-related deaths globally. With a greater proportion of deaths seen in the 30-40 year age group compared to patterns seen last year, a heartbreaking set of new orphans are being formed every day. Children are facing mental health issues and are at greater risk of domestic violence, as lockdowns shut them off from their vital support networks.

Over 290 million children in the country are out of school because their schools are closed. Children of poor families are now engaged in child labor and it is not clear how many will return to schools when they do open. Malnutrition among children is very high; over a third of India’s children are stunted (35% in 2019) and almost a quarter are wasted, according to pre-pandemic times, but this problem is only worsening. With schools closed, the single mid-day meal that many children rely on, is available no longer. Routine immunization has almost come to a standstill in some places, and an estimated 5-10 million children may have missed out on general vaccines in India.

With the help of partners in different districts and states in India, our MCHI team is working to ensure supplies of essential medicines, oxygen, and vaccines reach health workers and community workers, provide nutritional support and PPEs to migrants and families in need, and provide support to community health workers to keep open primary care services such as routine immunizations, antenatal care and acute care services. These actions may be mere drops, but every drop makes the ocean. The call to arms is urgent. The fight against the coronavirus will not be a quick one. On a global scale, we need countries to come together and help each other. Whether we are next door neighbors or living halfway across the world, we will be safe only when we all are protected—together.

Community Relief and Mobile Medical Outreach

Photo: Mewat Mobile Health Van: Dr. Rajeev and another doctor are providing care to a child in Mewat being held by their mother.

BUDS has received urgent requests for hospital beds, oxygen, medicines and further, has been inundated with requests for food and other essential supplies. BUDS uses the community mobilization model—intrepid health workers going door-to-door to families in need, and closing the primary health care gap, and providing access to basic services. MCHI provides technical assistance with planning and organizing these activities on the ground.

Activities include: (1) Primary health care service delivery to underserved areas through Mobile Health Van interventions; and, (2) Generalized community outreach to marginalized families and children, and provision of counselling, health education, and COVID Safety Kits.

COVID Assistance Centers and Nutritional Support

Photo: A beneficiary seeking support at the CINI COVID Sahayata Kendra (CSK) at the Karandighi Block, Uttar Dinajpur district, West Bengal

CINI is working on several different aspects and is providing relief to families hit both directly by COVID and also those indirectly affected. MCHI is assisting with preparation of messaging and educational materials, and planning the support activities.

Activities include: (1) CINI has set up several “COVID Sahayata Kendra (CSK)” or COVID Assistance Centers in districts that have been hard-hit by COVID to provide counseling, some testing facilities, assistance with quarantining and referrals; and, (2) They run a 3-wheeler ‘autorickshaw’ with amplifiers and a resource person advocating preventive measures, providing counselling and advice, and testing resources with rapid antigen testing.

Providing Oxygen, Emergency Care and Referrals

Photo credit: Amarnath Dutta
An all-women’s team provides oxygen concentrators to ailing COVID-19 patients through the Oxygen on Wheels initiative.

The Liver Foundation supports the Oxygen on Wheels program, which organizes a 100-strong fleet of oxygen concentrator equipped ambulances (donated by the state government), and will circulate throughout the catchment areas of Kolkata/Howrah and neighboring areas. This project brings ‘mobile’ oxygen support to the doorstep of those in need, until more stable options such as oxygen tanks can be arranged. This project will be linked to helpline numbers run by the COVID Care Network, which will triage calls and redirect the ambulances towards patients most in need, especially women who are less likely to seek care. MCHI is assisting in coordinating supply of oxygen concentrators, documenting the implementation of these plans, and assessing the impact of these relief activities.