Community Empowerment Lab (CEL), Shivgarh, Uttar Pradesh

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The Community Empowerment Lab (LAB), established in 2003 by Dr Vishwajeet Kumar, aimed to use behaviour change as a means of reducing neonatal mortality in resource poor settings. CEL set up a small office in Lucknow, and decided to focus its efforts on rural Shivgarh, a district of about 120 000 people.

Shivgarh district had a very high infant mortality rate (70 per 1000 live births), and CEL’s behaviour change strategy covered five areas to reduce this number; i) birth preparedness, ii) bathing practices, iii) umbilical cord and skin care, iv) Kangaroo Mother Care and v) breastfeeding. Community Health Workers, hired from the local community and trained to promote behaviour change, were the primary means through which this strategy was implemented.

A trial begun in 2004 sought to test CEL’s approach. 11 000 pregnant women were divided into 2 groups, with one receiving training from community health workers, and the other half receiving no intervention. The results indicated that newborn deaths were halved in the villages in which Community Health Workers were active.

CEL also maintains a comprehensive Demographic Surveillance System (DSS), started in January 2004. Vital events, such as births, deaths, migrations and pregnancies are captured. The DSS system started with a population of 104,000 and has now grown to 400,000.

CEL is currently investigating the scalability of its behaviour change model through village level Self-Help Groups (SHGs). Some of the other studies that CEL is also engaged in are genetic & environmental risk factors of prematurity, and sentinel surveillance of Haemophilus Influenzae type B meningitis.

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