As a teenager Meera Nepali was terrified as she went into labour with her first child at home in a remote village, miles from a hospital with nobody but her mother-in-law to help, reports AFP.
“I was a scared, but that was the norm. We didn’t have doctors close by,” Nepali told AFP of her three-day labour in Khadadevi village in Nepal’s hilly Ramechhap district.This year however, she delivered her second child in a rural health centre thanks to a small cash incentive that is getting pregnant women to hospital by paying their bus fares.
The Aama Surakshya, or “protection for mothers”, programme has helped more than two million Nepali women access medical services in the impoverished country where dying in childbirth remains a very real risk.
The UN Population Fund says giving birth remains a leading killer of women of reproductive age in Nepal, where the risk of dying in childbirth is higher than anywhere else in South Asia except Afghanistan.
A huge obstacle to safe deliveries is the Himalayan nation’s tough terrain, which often makes getting to a health facility a long and expensive journey, as well as the paucity of clinics in many parts of the country.
“We found that one of the main reasons rural women did not go to a hospital during childbirth was because they did not have hard cash to pay for transportation,” said Suresh Tiwari, one of the original architects of the scheme.
The programme was started in 2005 with British aid money, but has since been taken over by the Nepal government.