Intersecting agendas: maternal and child health and HIV prevention

13 May 2014
Annie Holmes

The Joint Secretary in the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Dr Rakesh Kumar, visited the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in April 2014.

Dr Kumar’s direct focus within the Ministry is on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health. The intersection of this agenda with STRIVE’s structural approach to HIV emerged in a meeting with STRIVE’s Dr Charlotte Watts, Dr Kate Mitchell and Annie Holmes. The Samata programme underway in North Karnataka provided an excellent example.

With Samata, the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT) is intervening on multiple levels to increase the numbers of adolescent girls enrolling in and completing the 10th Standard of high school. Research worldwide indicates that this will, in turn, delay sexual debut, marriage and entry into sex work, and thus reduce young women’s HIV risk.

To delay first pregnancy, said Dr Kumar, would make possibly the most significant contribution to health outcomes across his portfolio. "If you are able to delay age at marriage, you are done." Many maternal and child deaths result from teenage pregnancies. As part of norm change, Dr Kumar encouraged KHPT to discuss the benefits of delaying childbearing along with the value of child spacing.