Submitted by Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates at TEDxChange @ TEDxDelhi on March 22, 2011. Photo by Suzanne Lee for Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

During Women’s History Month, it’s important to stop and reflect on the incredible progress women have made the past few decades. Perhaps nowhere have results been more impressive than in women’s health and the health and wellbeing of their children. I am optimistic this progress will continue as the tools and strategies that have been effective in accomplishing these amazing feats are still improving and rolling out in a number of countries around the world.

Take India, for instance, where I am visiting this week. As a result of its large population and many other factors, India has the highest burden of maternal and newborn deaths globally (22% and 28% respectively) and almost half of the world’s malnourished children (more than 55 million). The rest of the health data paint the same picture.

But what excites me is that India is also a hotbed of innovation. Led by the national government, India has taken an innovative approach to improving the delivery of all key family health services, ranging from antenatal and postnatal care to family planning and immunization.

The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), India’s flagship national health program targeting rural populations, is a great example. Created in 2005, NRHM has prioritized maternal and child health and empowered health workers to reach women and children in the most remote villages. The program is particularly good at taking ideas and spreading them across India, leveraging innovation at state and local levels. One of those ideas alone, the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY)—a conditional cash transfer program for pregnant mothers—has driven millions more women into facilities to give birth, resulting in a proven reduction in neonatal deaths in the country.

The success of NRHM was likely an important factor in the government’s recent decision to increase the overall health budget by 20%.

Tuesday, at the foundation’s TEDxChange event in New Delhi, India, we heard about many other innovative solutions like NRHM and JSY that could save millions of lives. If you missed the live webcast, we’ll have videos and blog posts from the event available soon.