Logo: Merck for Mothers
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Government and health businesses making strides to reduce maternal mortality in India

A mother sits with her young child outside a health facility in rural India.

My recent trip to India shed light on the progress the country has made in reducing maternal mortality and the remaining challenges confronting this large and vibrant country.

India has the highest number of maternal deaths in the world, but in the past decade, the rate of maternal mortality has declined due to intensive efforts from the government and business community. The Indian government is clearly committed to maternal health and is engaging private businesses as part of its efforts. As a result, a notable number of maternal health businesses have sprung up — including private franchise clinics, low-cost hospitals, emergency transport services, and telemedicine clinics — and the landscape of private care for mothers is expanding.

But what I found most compelling about the government's commitment to maternal health was the Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) program, which I was fortunate enough to witness first-hand. The ASHA program is a network of more than 750,000 health workers who connect poor and remotely-located women with family planning, health facilities, and specialized care during their pregnancy. On top of the much-needed service they provide, ASHAs — who tend to be women — are also given the chance to earn income through this model and become leaders in their own communities — an opportunity that they have not been afforded in generations past.

It is no wonder then — as one of these village health workers proudly informed me — that in Hindi, "asha" translates to "hope".