It is a known fact that iron is the backbone of modern life. Beneficial for fighting anaemia, iron requirements increase considerably in women once they enter menstrual age. Hence, it is crucial for adolescent girls to understand the correlation between anaemia and iron, and its impact on their future.
However, active engagement of adolescent girls within the nutrition rhetoric continues to be a challenge in India. As a result, more than 67% of women in Morena, Madhya Pradesh, were anaemic as per NHFS 4 (2015-16).
Given the need, Dr Prateek Vashishtha, a Swasth Bharat Prerak (SBP) deployed in the district, stepped in. Dr Vashishtha has a master's degree in social work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and is a healthcare specialist in prosthetics and orthotics from the University of Delhi. He is registered with the Rehabilitation Council of India and has also worked with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. His past work experience has been in sectors of disability, rehabilitation, healthcare management and research work. His aspiration to work towards equity motivated him to become a Swasth Bharat Prerak.
With his wealth of experience, he was firm in his belief that girls could become ambassadors to spread awareness among their peers and bring a positive behavioural change in their community. Consequently, he initiated a movement to mobilise adolescent girls of the community and enlighten them on the dangers of anaemia.
During a field visit to the anganwadi centres of the Morena Urban Project, Dr Vashishtha met with five adolescent girls, who were tested to be anaemic. He conducted an awareness session for them on the dangers of anaemia, its symptoms, causes and remedies, along with the importance of iron and iron supplements to tackle anaemia. A month later, the follow-up of the five girls indicated a considerable improvement in their blood haemoglobin levels, and the SBPs realised that now they could win this war.
Dr Vashishtha encouraged each of the five girls to further impart education on anaemia to five more girls each – their friends, relatives or community members. Thus, began the ‘Power-Paanch Girls’ movement to fight against anaemia.
To incentivise the action, the Power-Paanch girl who helps in identifying the maximum number of girls with anaemia and aids in improving their blood haemoglobin levels was recognised for her efforts and awarded a special badge.
The movement brought a huge change that was owned and driven by a community of adolescent girls. It began with one Power-Paanch group and today is a community of 840 girls across the anganwadi centres in the Morena Urban Project. This community now focuses on empowering women and spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene and tackling many other myths.
This is a cost-effective method that spreads the message and brings effective results. The project now covers five other districts in Madhya Pradesh, aimed at transforming the life of every woman and girl that it touches.
This story has been taken from the Sir Ratan Tata Trust and Allied Trusts Annual Report 2018-19