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Vassar College

Publication Date

Fall 2017

Program Name

India: Public Health, Policy Advocacy, and Community


Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), known as dais in an Indian context, have historically served as women’s primary caregivers throughout their pregnancies and during childbirth in rural regions where access to formal healthcare institutions is nearly impossible. With a heavy reliance on traditional knowledge passed down through generations, dais have aided with home deliveries for millennia. Approximately 15 years ago, however, groups such as WHO, UNICEF, World Bank, and the UN began addressing India’s high maternal mortality rate (MMR), thereby instigating the discouragement of home deliveries in favor of the encouragement of institutional deliveries. Infrastructural changes were established to improve accessibility to formal healthcare institutions, government schemes were introduced to incentivize women for hospital births, and new health worker positions were created to promote this transition. Government-run dai-training programs came to a standstill, leaving NGOs to train and support these women, thereby shifting the modern dai’s role. This study explores the perceptions of dais, mothers who have birthed with dais, NGO dai trainers, and other healthcare professionals to understand the current relevance of trained dais and how their roles, responsibilities, and birth outcomes have recently shifted since the governmental push towards higher rates of institutional delivery. Findings – developed through collaboration with local Udaipur NGO Seva Mandir – suggest that although dais’ roles have shifted from traditions of the past, their current responsibilities of accompanying women to navigate hospital environments, serving as emotional support systems, providing extensive health education, and acting as links to essential healthcare are nonetheless integral contributions to the rural Indian healthcare system and female empowerment.


Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Asian Studies | Community Health | Maternal and Child Health | Obstetrics and Gynecology | Public Health | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Women's Health | Women's Studies


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