Rebati Sahoo Ensures Healthy Pregnancies in Rough Terrains. Wins Plan India Impact Awards 2022

In the remote town of Keonjhar, Odisha, an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker named Rebati Sahoo is seen holding a newborn baby in her hand as she teaches a young mother how to take care of the child and keep them healthy. 

But this is not a one-time scenario. Rebati has done this for over 500 mothers in several villages of Odisha. 

Every year in India, 35,000 women die in childbirth and there are over 272,000 stillbirths. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 years, and an estimated one million women each year suffer life-threatening complications during pregnancy.

Indeed, too many women and men are still unaware of the approach to motherhood. 

After understanding their struggles to ensure women have a comfortable pregnancy, in 1991, Rebati Sahoo of Odisha became an ASHA worker and an auxiliary nurse midwife. Till today, she has assisted women with their pregnancies and improved life expectancy and immunization rates. 

Recently she was also awarded the Best Accredited Social Health Activist/Auxiliary Nurse Midwife at the Plan India Impact Awards 2022. 

Midwives are the cornerstone of the fight against child mortality and for better conditions of access to care and information for pregnant women. Thanks to midwives, many women see their health improve during pregnancy, and more births are carried to term in sanitary conditions.

A life of devotion

After graduating from Matriculation, Rebati, a native of Koraput applied for a job to become an ASHA worker. 

“Growing up, I have always provided support to my family and our neighbors. Right from doing household chores to farming. It would give me immense pleasure to see others in joy. So, I wanted to work in a field where I could help society,” says Rebati. 

In April 1991, when she got her first posting, Rebati was thrilled. Initially, she attended training provided by the government. This covered the basic concepts of healthcare for pregnant women, healthy diets, and other aspects to lead a healthy life. 

“But as time went on, every month, I took training from my center to become a midwife. This included childbirth, feeding a newborn, awareness about malaria, leprosy, and other prevalent diseases,” says Rebati.  

Rebati’s career took off in the Koraput district, a large forested area. 

Every day, she would do house visits in her sub-districts to help pregnant women, conduct health checkups for them, and identify any major health complications. She would also go out of her way to raise awareness among families about child marriage, and early pregnancies and bust age-old myths surrounding healthcare. 

Rebati says, “I would not only talk about nutritious food but also demonstrate the food preparation. This helps them understand better and implement the same for their babies. If they need further help to care for the babies, I sometimes stay back and feed the child in front of the mothers. Apart from making the work easier for new mothers, this is necessary for children that are weak and under the red zone.” 

Through forests and thorny paths

The work of Rebati might sound easy, but on most days, she has risked her life to save others. 

She recalls an instance in Koraput when a pregnant mother was ready to give birth but had many complications. The village-level healthcare practitioners refused to treat her there and asked her to immediately rush to a district-level hospital for a C-Section surgery. 

“It was late at night, there was no transport to take the mother to a hospital nor was there enough time. So, the family reached out to me. Though their location was more than 40 kilometers away, without thinking twice, I left to help the mother,” says Rebati. 

First, she traveled by bus and then had to walk 5 kilometers by foot through thick forests to reach the location. To make things harder, on the way, she was met by an elephant. To stay safe, Rebati hid behind rocks and trees and made it safely to the village. 

“The mother was in a lot of pain. By then, even a vehicle was arranged to shift her to a district-level hospital. But, with my expertise, I guided her through the pregnancy and she had a normal delivery,” says Rebati, adding that the mother is forever grateful and is still in touch with her. 

Reward of Rebati’s dedication

Rebati visits over 3,000 women in her district every 14 days. On an average day, at least 50 - 100 women visit her looking for help. 

In the last year, she has facilitated 101 Village Health & Nutrition Days (VHND) with 100% attendance of beneficiaries. She referred 25 sick children to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Center (NRC) and the District Headquarters Hospital (DHH). 

These efforts resulted in the birth of 498 children, out of a total of 504 deliveries. Moreover, she has been able to improve the immunization rate in the district from 78% to 99.9% and the institutional delivery rate from 87% to 100%.


Roshini Muthukumar

Roshini Muthukumar, a native of Chennai, started her career as a content writer but made a switch to journalism to pursue her passion. She has experience writing about human interest stories, innovative technology, entrepreneurs, research blogs, and more. Previously, Roshini has done internships with The Hindu, Metroplus and worked as a correspondent with The Better India.