World Economic Forum on India 2012

  • An Insight, an Idea with Abhay Bang

    Thursday 8th November 2012 - 1:30pm - 2:00pm

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  • Key Points

    • Women and youth will power growth in future.
    • Corporates should contribute to universal healthcare.


    Women and youth will be the driving force of future change in India, said Abhay Bang, Director, Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH), India. Inspired by Gandhi, Bang and his wife Rani started a community health initiative spearheaded by semi-literate village women over 25 years ago in remote tribal areas.

    After training as doctors, Bang and Rani chose to work in Gadchiroli, a tribal area that has no health facilities. The death of a one-month-old child within minutes of being brought to them greatly impacted the couple. “There were 18 causes that may have been responsible for that infant’s death, ranging from poverty, diarrhoea, infection or pneumonia to lack of a hospital.” How does one save an infant who can die of 18 causes?

    In the absence of a health centre, they decided to take healthcare to every tribal home by creating a team of village women trained to handle deliveries and also educate the community. These semi-literate women, named Aarogyadoots (messengers of health) trained for 26 days and after a year of field trials were selected as health workers for the community. These “barefoot” heath workers carry a “power bag”, a cotton bag that has – among other items – a thermal bag to keep pre-term babies warm, a weighing scale and an emergency oxygen kit.

    Within a few years, the infant deaths were reduced by 70%. “When we started, the IMR in the region was 121 [per 1,000 deaths]. It reduced to 33 after the women took charge,” said Bang.

    Although initially the medical fraternity objected to Bang’s unconventional methods, they gradually understood his wisdom to provide an alternative to a large village community. Later, Indian paediatricians, after studying the evidence from the field, wholeheartedly backed Bang’s initiative to save newborns.

    Today, based on Bang’s Gadchiroli model, 800,000 village women in India are now being trained by the government under the Asha programme.

    However, high infant mortality is still a huge concern. Two million children under five years of age die each year. Bang says India will be late in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the infant mortality rate by two-thirds. It will reach the goal in 2020 but, by then, nearly 2 million excess child deaths would have taken place in India.

    Bang hopes that the corporates can contribute to providing universal healthcare in the villages. Along with non-governmental organizations, the business sector can address several health challenges in areas where the government machinery is ineffective or absent. Good health, he stated, is a goal for all growth. The corporates can adopt villages and empower women to take care of their own health and that of the community.

    Bang emphasized that corporates should be run more like trusts, as Gandhi had envisaged. Capitalism needs to reform, “it needs a soul.” His own inspiration has always been Gandhi’s quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”


    This summary was written by Malvika Kaul. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum. 

Session objectives

A conversation with Abhay Bang, Director, Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health, on his inspirational work on saving newborn lives in India 


  • Abhay Bang Abhay Bang
    Director, Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH), India

    MD; MPH. Director, SEARCH, an NGO in a remote district, Gadchiroli, in India providing medical care ...

Interviewed by

  • Jasmine Whitbread Jasmine Whitbread
    Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children International, United Kingdom

    1986, graduate, University of Bristol; 1997, Executive Program, Stanford Graduate School of Business...