But are doctors and nurses necessary to improve rural health? Two very successful programs in desperately poor parts of India’s Maharashtra state say no. SEARCH (the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health), in the district of Gadchiroli, and the Comprehensive Rural Health Project, in the district of Jamkhed, both recruit ordinary women to take care of their villages’ health. They have had a huge impact on the health and prosperity of their villages.
Today there is no more infant mortality, and TB and leprosy are gone. Mothers eat better — the average birth weight of a baby has gone from about four and a half pounds to six and a half. New mothers are taught how to feed and care for their babies. Children get regular immunizations. Now almost every mother knows how to treat diarrhea and fever.
SEARCH, by contrast, focuses on more traditional medicine. Like Jamkhed, SEARCH was founded by a husband-and-wife team of Indian doctors who studied public health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Abhay and Rani Bang. But there are differences. SEARCH is newer, founded in 1985. It requires its health workers to have more education —literacy at least, and some of the women have finished 10th grade. SEARCH trains them to work with mothers in their homes to have healthy children. The health workers visit pregnant women repeatedly, attend births, teach mothers about how to keep their babies healthy and check in on the children often. They diagnose and treat illnesses, and even administer injectable antibiotics to treat blood infections.