A premature infant in Gurgaon, India. The poor health of children in India, even after decades of economic growth, is a perplexing public health issues linked to their mothers’ relatively poor health. Credit Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

When pregnant a woman can be ravenously hungry yet only able to keep down specific foods. I have felt this in my own pregnancies and may have kept a few restaurants in business whilst in the midst of my cravings. However, I live in a culture that indulges pregnant women. A recent study has shown that this is not the case in India. When compared to the poorer countries of sub-sahara Africa, India has a higher infant mortality rate and lower maternal weight. Why? The author suggests that culture and poor sewage are the primary reasons.

The rapidly growing economy in India has led to rapid population growth without adequate infrastructure. Open sewage systems are a large contributor to ill health of all ages, but is especially deadly to infants in two ways. Primary infection leads to death, but maternal infection leads to low birth weight and premature birth which generally leads to death of the child. This is more of a political matter that I will leave for the politicians. The other obstacles within culture is what I wish to explore.

Young married women are at the bottom of the totem pole in Indian homes. They are expected to do the cooking, cleaning and are always the last to eat should there be anything left. These young women are also the ones bearing children. Herein is where culture is affecting health. These women are the ones primarily exposed to the sewage through the cleaning and therefore have higher incidence of infection. Further, their limited diet has led to epidemic proportions of anemia among young Indian women. Both of these maladies contribute to the high infant mortality rate in India. This is not right, but how do we change a culture?

My experience in changing a culture has led me to conclude that change happens from within. I believe that educating members of the culture about the hazards of malnourished pregnant women is a starting point. Perhaps this will lead to cultural changes allowing pregnant women more food, or maybe social changes enabling pregnant women more access to food their body needs. Whatever the outcome, as fellow children of our Father in Heaven, it is my opinion that we have a duty to help. For each person this will look different, some may have money, others skills or maybe just cultural awareness will lead to activism for change (i.e. sharing this story on Facebook). Whatever it is that you have, I implore you to do something for theses children of God in India.

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