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Taking childbirth training to rural India

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First published on SBS Punjabi, by Sarah Abo, 28 December 2016

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Two Monash Health doctors are taking basic education about childbirth to remote parts of India in a bid to reduce the rates of mother and newborn mortality.

Dr Atul Malhotra and Dr Arunaz Kumar are a neonatologist-and-obstetrician husband-wife team.

For years, they have brought hope to families who experienced difficult births at Monash Children's Hospital and Monash Health.

Now, they are piloting a program to provide patients at rural Indian hospitals with similar help.

They recently travelled to the Punjab in India, where, Dr Malhotra says, they tried to address the needs of local health workers.

"The gap that we realised most of them have is that they're taught in their medical school or nursing school or wherever they come from about what is childbirth, and what to expect and so forth, but there's no hands-on skills training."

The couple's focus in India is to help prevent deaths associated with complicated births, for both mothers and children.

Using sophisticated simulation technology, they worked on improving the health workers' skills.

Dr Kumar says one objective was to help them understand the complications causing mass bleeding, uterine rupture and perinatal asphyxia.

That can cause death or long-term brain damage in newborns.

"I set up the simulator and asked the midwife, 'Okay, just think of this as a real woman. What would you do?' They were amazed. They couldn't believe that such sort of training exists."

Arunaz Kumar and Atul Malhotra migrated from India 13 years ago.

Dr Kumar says they have experienced their homeland's medical shortcomings firsthand.

"There are real personal experiences that I can draw upon, where I've seen women suffer, bleed extensively, and nothing much could be done about it. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have been able to do something about it."

Post-partum haemorrhage is the biggest killer of new mothers in developing countries.

It is rare in Australia, and Dr Malhotra says that is because it is easily prevented.

"Difficult births and babies are compromised probably five to 10 times a week (in India). We see those kinds of situations five to 10 times a year (in Australia). So it's huge. And I'm just talking about one institute."

The two doctors say they hope to drastically reduce that number in India and have hopes of expanding their program to other developing nations.

Dr Kumar says it is also about giving back.

"It was always there, that, it doesn't matter where we may be, which part of the world, we would always go back and do this, do something to help the women."