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Arunima Maharshi

IWB Blogger

Dr. Monalisa Padhee’s ‘Takatvala Powder’ Is Doing Wonders Bettering The Health Of Women In Rural Rajasthan

  • IWB Post
  •  October 4, 2018

There is no dearth of survey reports in India that talk about the poor health and nutritional status of rural women. Last year, a report by National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau and Indian Council of Medical Research, stated that 80-90 percent of preschool children, pregnant and lactating women, and adolescent girls have anemia.

And the poor eating habits and lack of nutrition in women belonging to lower income backgrounds all the more makes them the main sufferer of anemia, the consequences of which range from fatigue to even cancer. In such situation, it is an inspiration to find that a young woman from Odisha, who after having studied in Australia, comes back to India, and is currently working on bettering the health of women in rural Rajasthan.

I am talking about Dr. Monalisa Padhee who hails from Sambalpur district of Odisha and after completing her B.Tech in Biotechnology and PhD from The University of South Australia in Adelaide, returned to work in the development sector of India instead of choosing to work there itself. On moving back, Dr. Padhee applied for SBI Youth For India fellowship and joined the Barefoot College NGO as a volunteer in Rajasthan. And it may seem like quite a journey for her already, but on the contrary, it was just the beginning.

In an interaction with Homegrown, Dr. Padhee said that getting the opportunity to address the issue of women’s health along with menstrual hygiene awareness in Rajasthan, was a life-changing experience for her.

“I did my research in the field of fetal programming and how a mother’s health from her early days and pregnancy affects the health of the baby for years to come. I might continue the research in this area which which will provide evidence for concentrating more on the women during the early stage such as adolescence and periconceptional stages,” she shared.

Dr. Monalisa Padhee

And talking about how coming to Rajasthan in 2016 proved to be one of the best decisions of her life, she said, “I have always had a keen interest in women’s health and had read extensively about its state in India. But when I entered my project location in Ajmer district, I discovered that the health condition of adolescent girls and women is far worse than what I had read in articles. These women worked very hard – in the field, milking goats, fetching water and cooking for their families. Yet, health to them was not a priority. What especially caught my attention was the stunted growth of their children.”

Barefoot college is an international NGO set up in 1972. They have many focus areas from health, education, solar, and water. It is through them that Dr. Padhee visited villages like Junda, Tyodh, Chota Narena, Chirr and Tilonia to learn more about women’s health that proved necessary for our plans. In a health camp she conducted, it was found that 95% of the girls and women of the 300 checked, were anemic. These women came from marginalized backgrounds and money seemed to come across a certain deciding factor when it came to food consumption. Thereon Dr. Padhee began to educate them about the fruits and vegetables they should consume with high iron content but looking at what they normally eat wasn’t encouraging.

Most of these women were surviving on rotis and chillis, and Dr.Padhee realized that her research could prove useful here. “I was already conducting research on these test subjects. I thought I might as well meet the people I am reading and writing about in person and use my skills here. Barefoot College was making ‘Amritchurna’ for children to improve their health. It had all the contents necessary to be consumed by women as well. I decided to tweak it a little by making it more tasty and begin giving them this powder,” she said.

Dr. Monalisa Padhee

Amritchurna or ‘Takatwala powder’ is made of wheat, Bengal gram, groundnut, sesame seeds and jaggery that has a high iron content. It can be consumed liked a sweet dish at any time of the day. The packaging of the box comes with clear instructions and the local NGO staff help to make it reach every household, sometimes delivering it to the doorstep. Women are told to eat 100gm every day.

Dr. Padhee began giving Takatwala Powder to women in April last year. And she did face a roadblock in convincing women to buy a dietary supplement and how it would help them. “In some cases, women won’t get it why investing a small amount of money for a health product will benefit them. And initially I had a hard time to get these girls and women come for the awareness session but things have changed since then. Many girls and women now come for these session and have started prioritizing their health,” she shared. She has been monitoring the Hemoglobin levels at regular intervals with the help of the NGO and the results have been favourable.

Dr. Monalisa Padhee

Dr. Monalisa Padhee

The powder costs Rs.30/Kilo. It needs to be consumed within ten days and the women are encouraged to come for refills. Dr. Padhee is working on improving the powder by adding a few ingredients. “I am working on adding linseed which is a great source of Omega 3 fatty acid. I wish to replace wheat with two or more food crops like jowar and bajra. Once the nutrition analysis and other formalities are complete, we might push to product into stores and commercialise it. We want to create a source of livelihood for the women who make this product. Getting the profit from high end markets will provide subsidy for rural women,” she said.

Dr.Padhee has been working with the community since September 2015 now, and has been working on other projects in health such as designing a curriculum on menstrual and reproductive education and nutrition which is now adopted by barefoot college. And she is still weighing her option to continue working in health sector in India!

H/T Link: Homegrown

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