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Connecting the dots: Linking Bihar’s SWASTH to SDGs

Sep 22, 2015

While Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define the development discourse at the global level, initiatives such as the Sector Wide Approach to Strengthening Health (SWASTH), in Bihar are contributing in their own ways towards making these goals a reality.

Patna: On September 25th 2015, global leaders will meet at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), where they are expected to commit to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to make the world a better place. The SDGs aim to achieve the goals such as ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, fixing climate change and so on.  SDGs are being considered  a leap forward from the eight goals and 18 targets that were set as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

While SDGs define the development discourse at the global level, initiatives such as the Sector Wide Approach to Strengthening Health (SWASTH), in Bihar are contributing in their own ways towards making these goals a reality.  SWASTH helps improve the health and nutritional status of people, especially vulnerable communities like Mahadalits. Leveraging the strength of convergent action across health, nutrition and water & sanitation sectors, SWASTH supports improvements through strategic planning, innovative programmes and effective use of available resources. Bihar is one of the most populous and poorest states in India, and presents a complex context that throws up several challenges. The effort is to help deliver government programmes smoothly, whilst also trying to introduce innovations that can accelerate progress.

The Bihar Child Support Programme (BCSP), for example, is a demand-side incentive programme of SWASTH, which aims to improve child nutrition through conditional cash transfers.  One the other hand SWASTH has introduced the Uddeepan strategy to strengthen the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) at the Anganwadi level. An additional worker – the Uddeepika – mentors Anganwadi workers to improve the quality of  services provided at the centres.  A new ICT based performance management system, is also being piloted to help Anganwadi workers and their supervisors identify problems and to be more responsive to any issues – thereby aiming for more effective and time-efficient work.  All this and more are an aim to bring down chronic hunger and undernutrition amongst children and women in Bihar.

In the field of health, SWASTH is working closely with the Government of Bihar to strengthen health systems by helping with quality improvements at health facilities, building the capacity of health workers, promoting public-private partnerships and so on.  For example, a skills lab trains nursing graduates on core skills for maternal and newborn health. It provides hands on experience with mannequins and other educational aids, to prepare them with any skills needed in the labour room.  These are needed for addressing high rates of maternal and newborn mortality – and are very directly linked to achieving the SDGs.

A third area of SWASTH’s work is on facilitating access to safe drinking water and safe sanitation which is linked to the SDGs targets. Despite challenges, SWASTH has been working over the past few years on the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach to make villages open defecation free (ODF). This is now being further catalysed by the new emphasis laid on this issue through the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission. Water quality issues are being addressed through support to set up water treatment plants in areas affected by water contamination, and also for water quality labs to provide safe drinking water to people in Bihar.

Gender is an integral part of SWASTH and is emphasised across all programmes.  Specific interventions such as Gram Varta or the women’s helplines also directly address gender concerns.

At a time when policymakers across the globe are advocating for an integrated approach for achieving SDGs, SWASTH is an apt example for convergence, coordination and strategic planning. It is important that the learnings and evidence from this are used to sustain beyond programme cycles and for scaling up and replication.

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