WomenStrong International's "Empower" Project in India Screens Thousands of Young Girls for Anemia

Reducing Anemia Lowers Infant Mortality and Saves Women's Lives

Jan 19, 2016, 09:00 ET from WomenStrong International

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- WomenStrong International, a consortium of non-profit organizations in five nations supporting women-driven solutions to extreme urban poverty, announced today that more 4,000 adolescent girls have been successfully screened and treated for anemia in the first phase of a joint partnership with the Dhan Foundation.

Anemia is caused by a lack of iron and folic acid that results a deficiency of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.  It is associated with increased risk of infection, impaired cognitive function, premature births, birth defects and increased infant and maternal mortality. 

In India, an estimated 60% of all deaths of women in childbirth are either directly caused by anemia or have anemia as a contributing factor. Easily preventable with inexpensive supplements, anemia remains a problem for women worldwide due to poverty, malnutrition, disease and poor access to healthcare. 

"We are proud to be supporting our partner, the Dhan Foundation in its far-reaching efforts to help women and girls address a widespread and serious health issue," said Dr. Susan M. Blaustein, Executive Director of WomenStrong International. "Health is a human right and one of the 6 Essential Needs that must be met to allow women to lift themselves out of extreme urban poverty."

Of the 4,243 girls screened over 20 weeks in the southern city of Madurai, 87.5% were found to be anemic, and a quarter of those tested were severely anemic. All the girls with anemia were treated, and the most severe cases referred to the local community hospital. The program also provided iron folic acid tablets to treat the anemia and prevent recurrence, and offered critically important health and nutritional education for girls, women and their families, to raise awareness. A second round of anemia testing will take place at the end of 2016.

Screening was conducted by leveraging a network of grassroots, women's Self-Help Groups (SHGs), organized around a community microfinance banking program. Over more than two decades, the Dhan Foundation has created nearly 41,000 such groups in villages and urban slums across 12 Indian states, supporting more than 600,000 families in their efforts to climb out of deep poverty. 

Microfinance plays a "starter" role in community organizing. Once established, the Self-Help Groups become the focal point for reaching women and families with a wide variety of programs that meet other needs, such as housing support, education and skills-building, sanitation and safety. Through the Self-Help Groups, Dhan identified girls at risk for anemia within 13,000 families for screening. Such at-risk girls from impoverished families are often kept at home, they are not always easy to find and help.

WomenStrong's partnership with Dhan, EMPOWER: WomenStrong Madurai, organized the girls who were screened into 325 adolescent Self-Help Groups that will receive additional education in hygiene, vocational skills, reproductive health and programs to keep them in school.

In addition to the screenings, EMPOWER: WomenStrong Madurai has organized 1,100 women into 87 groups for savings programs, with more groups planned for the coming year. These women set their own agendas that includes a focus on improved sanitation and reduced alcoholism in 2016. Alcoholism among men diverts cash from impoverished families and is a major contributor to domestic violence.

"In every one of the five countries where we work and in every program we support, our initiatives have three things in common: they leverage the power of women's groups, they are determined by the women themselves, and they focus on meeting women's 6 Essential Needs for health, shelter, safety, education, economic empowerment and a functioning urban environment," Dr. Blaustein said.  "Dhan's extensive anemia screenings in Madurai mark an important milestone, and we are proud of our partnership with this remarkable organization."

The Dhan Foundation is a veteran development organization founded in India and based on the Gandhian principles of justice and satyagraha, or leadership. Dhan relies on the integrity and social capital within communities to chart their own deliberate paths toward self-empowerment. Dhan has been working with under-resourced urban and rural populations both in the Madurai region and all over India for 30 years, partnering with local and national government, health systems, the private sector and other NGOs whenever doing so holds promise for improving the lives of India's poor.

WomenStrong International is a consortium of non-profit organizations in five nations supporting women-driven solutions to extreme urban poverty.  WSI emerged from a decade of work at Columbia University's Millennium Cities Initiative where we found the most successful programs were local and led by women. Through our Consortium members in Ghana, Kenya, Haiti, India, and Washington, D.C., we help thousands of women and girls meet their 6 Essential Needs for health, shelter, safety, education, economic empowerment and a functioning urban environment.   These women, in turn, improve the lives of their children, families, communities and nations.  WomenStrong believes the path out of poverty and toward a more just and prosperous world can be found by making women strong. For more information, visit www.womenstrong.org.   

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