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Future Health Systems is a research consortium working to improve access, affordability and quality of health services for the poor. We are a partnership of leading research institutes from across the globe working in a variety of contexts: in low-income countries (Bangladesh, Uganda), middle-income countries (China, India) and fragile states (Afghanistan) to build resilient health systems for the future. After a successful first five-year phase from 2006-2011 (see our success stories), we are entering a new six-year phase of research, funded mainly by UK aid.

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Depression in the delta: Women in the Sundarbans face serious mental health challenges

Future Health Systems

A recent article from the Women's Feature Service featured in the Hindu and written by Sharmista Chowdhury explores the complex issue of mental health among women in the Sundarbans. The article features several quotes and findings from recent FHS research in the area. According to FHS research:

The average of such cases [of deliberate self harm or attempted suicide] per month in each BPHC [Block Primary Health Care Centre] has gone up from 11 to 15 between 2001 and 2008. The share of pesticide or chemical poisoning in total DSH cases has also increased to 89 per cent.

Professor Barun Kanjilal, the principle investigator from FHS-India explains that:

The livelihood insecurity, which is a product of a complex link between repeated climatic shock and chronic poverty, is the main reason why Sundarban women are disproportionately affected by mental health problems. Ironically, the easy availability of modern agricultural inputs, like insecticide, has made it easier for them to find a ‘solution’ in suicide.

In addition to frequent climatic shocks, like Cyclone Aila that came through the area in 2009, mental stress can also arise from post-traumatic stress following animal attacks. The article notes:

In villages adjacent to the forests, where communities depend on fishing and collecting forest produce, people are especially vulnerable to animal attacks. Women, who often spend hours standing knee-deep in the water, collecting spawn, are dangerously exposed to sudden attacks by tigers or crocodiles. In addition, there is always the lurking fear of widowhood – every time the man ventures out on a fishing trip or in the forests.