The subject of Mother and Child Health is a very important one on which there is widespread traditional knowledge in the community. This is unique in the sense that this perhaps is the area where the largest body of specialised traditional health practitioners exist namely dais. This is also special in as much as it is here that Government has (however grudgingly) taken note of existence of Local Health Practitioners namely dais. The training of dais is now an essential part of the maternal and child health programme not only in India bout also in over fifty other countries.
According to a recent report of the Indian Council of Medical Research the current maternal mortality rate is 4 - 7 per 1000 live births. The infant mortality rate is 90 per 1000 live births. The incidence of low birth weight in infants is 35 to 45% (1). What is responsible for this situation? At present there are number of studies and surveys available which have gathered information on the local practices in the area of Mother and Child Health. Most of these studies have been done by practitioners of modern systems of medicine, with training in fields like Nutrition, Obstetrics, Gynecology, Pediatrics and Community Health. Almost all these studies suffer from the limitation that the "evaluation" of the Local practices has been done invariably only from the point of view of modern medicine. Studies that have evaluated these practices from the perspective of Indigenous Systems of Medicine (ISM) are quite rare. One such example is the study of traditional child rearing practices of Nepal (2).
In 1986 the Lok Swaasthya Parampara Samvardhan Samithi (LSPSS) had decided to hold a convention on the theme of - "Mother and Child Health in Traditional Medicine". It was decided that a detailed survey would be undertaken to elicit information regarding various traditional practices in the area of Mother and Child Health. The information that was thus gathered was analysed and evaluated from the view point of Aayurveda. Aayurvedic Aachaaryaas were requested to comment upon these practices. Following this there was a discussion between representatives of the field groups from the various areas where the survey had been undertaken and the Aachaaryaas who did the evaluation. In 1989 December a National Convention was organised on the theme of "Mother and Child Health in Traditional Systems of Medicine".
In this convention presentations were made regarding various themes relating to the subjects from the view point of Aayurveda and independently from the viewpoint of modern medicine. The results of the survey and evaluation were also circulated and discussed in detail.
What this monograph attempts
The purpose of this monograph is to present in a summarised form the traditional approach to - "Garbhini Charya" : the care of pregnant woman. Local practices that were recorded during the LSPSS Survey as well as other surveys in the literature have been commented upon.
It is of course obvious that the interaction between the Lok Swaasthya Paramparaas and the ISMS have to be in the nature of a dialogue. On the one hand the input from ISMS can help us to make an assessment and evaluation of the Lok Swaasthya Parmaparaas - this would help to strengthen these traditions by confirming what is sound, complete what is incomplete and to identify any distortions. However, it is equally possible that ISMs themselves can benefit by systematically observing various local practices - some of these cannot be readily comprehended in the light of the theory of ISMs. Also, these involve the use of new material which are not described in our classical texts. Such practices need to be studied further and understood. We hope that such an interaction will also infuse more dynamism into our ISMs and update their practice.