Howdy people, I’m Spiffy. As an interplanetary journalist, I’ve been interviewing the people taking on health challenges around the world. Today I’m talking to Radhika Batra, the Founder and President of Every Infant Matters, an organization that’s been supporting those most affected by the COVID pandemic.
Spiffy: So what’s the challenge that you’re addressing?
Radhika: 250 million children have Vitamin A deficiency and can become permanently blind. One million children go blind every year due to this reason. These children survive on a handful of rice and have seen never milk, eggs, and butter. We give Vitamin A to malnourished children in India, Kenya, Nigeria, and the Dominican Republic. We simultaneously implement a holistic program of health education, promoting breastfeeding, deworming, dispelling harmful myths. We are now also working on COVID relief.
Spiffy: People shouldn’t end up blind because of their diet! What motivated you to begin this work?
Radhika: As a pediatrician in a busy public hospital, I have seen horrifying health inequalities. I was shocked to see a severely malnourished child who had become blind. Vitamin A is part of the government’s immunization program, but 40% of the children escape full immunization. Either the parents are ignorant or they cannot afford the expense to visit a clinic. This year I found an immense need for COVID relief, for hungry, homeless people, and for health workers who need protective equipment.
Spiffy: I’d love to hear about what you’re doing to alleviate the impacts of COVID. How are you helping to make the world more equitable?
Radhika: We are working towards a more equitable world by preventing malnutrition and blindness, and by improving the health of children and women. Preventing blindness is an urgent need, as blindness leads to misery, stigma, discrimination, and psychosocial problems. The gift of sight leads to better education and employment opportunities. Malnourished children suffer stunting, recurrent infection, and poor school performance. Malnutrition is both the cause and the result of poverty and disease.
As for COVID, migrant laborers and daily wagers in cities had lost their jobs. These were hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. Men, women, children, hungry and thirsty and tired and exhausted, are on long marches on foot, trying to reach their native villages. We delivered essential items to these people, such as face masks, sanitizers, soaps, food, and grocery kits. We distributed food and groceries to migrant workers and homeless people in 3 states of India: Delhi, UP, and Assam.
Spiffy: The pandemic has caused new waves of suffering beyond disease :( how do you approach these challenges going forward?
Radhika: That’s very true Spiffy, The world is reeling under the pandemic, times are incredibly difficult and this will continue. Even though we can’t always stop the virus from spreading, we can help those who are the worst affected. Each one of us can contribute in our own way. Covid-19 will bring in its wake the next challenges of poverty and hunger. In times of a global crisis, where misery is all around, it’s important to remember that ultimately it is love, kindness, and compassion that will get us through it.
Spiffy: It warms my heart to hear that :’). Could you tell me about an initiative by Every Infant Matters?
Radhika: In remote parts of the world, where health systems are non-existent, Church groups are carrying out health care. We are educating nuns from 9 countries in child care, safe deliveries, Covid-19, and other medical topics. We are providing medical expertise to the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians. We do weekly training sessions giving practical tips. We answer queries on a Whatsapp group. This ensures up-gradation of skills so that nuns provide better care to the needy.
Spiffy: What’s a time you’ve faced failure? How did you overcome the challenge?
Radhika: We hired 2 people as Community health workers to implement a project on immunization. We gave them a fixed salary which was equivalent to what they would get elsewhere. But we soon found that they were not doing their work sincerely, and we were not getting the anticipated results. We decided to give them half the salary as a fixed wage, and the remaining as an incentive per immunization. This improved matters and work accelerated at a good pace. We learned that incentives can improve performance.
Spiffy: What’s something unexpected you’ve learned recently?
Radhika: I learned to be unafraid during the COVID crisis. The entire world is frightened, but those on the front lines battling COVID are resilient and courageous in the face of adversity. They are treating COVID in spite of the threat to their own lives. Health care workers have a ten times higher likelihood of getting infected. Thousands have died. Many are sick. Doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, ward boys, technicians, kitchen staff, even nuns are struggling against odds to serve humanity. It is humbling.
Spiffy: They’re truly an example for humanity to follow.
Dr. Radhika Batra is a pediatrician. She is the founder & president of Every Infant Matters. She is a Forbes Asia 30-under-30 Honoree, One Young World Ambassador, and a Trust Changemaker with Thomson Reuters Foundation. She is a prolific writer and has contributed to Project Syndicate, HuffPost, and The Times of India. (Nominated by One Young World)