Dr. Vikas Kaushal knew he wasn’t cut out for a desk job. He also knew he’d found his place when he started working for Jhpiego in community medicine—a specialty that allows him to have a positive impact on large numbers of people.
Happy as he was to join Jhpiego and settle down to work in the Motihari district (with additional responsibilities in Saran district) in Bihar state in northeastern India, he was caught off guard by the vast difference between what he had learned in classrooms and books and the reality of practicing community medicine in districts with some of the poorest health indicators in India.
“When I reached Motihari, I was shocked,” the public health expert says, recalling the early days of his posting. “I had no idea how I would be able to work. It was a different world.”
The tough living conditions he faced didn’t trouble him nearly so much as the way the local health system functioned—or didn’t function. His biggest challenge, as an outsider, was working his way in to a point where he could begin to fix some of the more pressing issues: institutional deliveries were very low and unmet need for family planning very high. Women and families were unaware of the benefits of family planning or the methods that were available. Dr. Kaushal also saw how the quality of care suffered in health facilities where the poor and vulnerable went because they could not afford private health care—and he recognized it as his mission to address the inequity.
Dr. Kaushal is now recognized as one of the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health’s 120 Under 40: New Generation of Family Planning Leaders. The award is based on the fact that the family planning scenarios in the districts where he works are vastly different now than when he first arrived. Thanks to his being a catalyst, community health workers and health care providers now understand the importance of family planning and work hard to counsel women about their choices. In addition, the community is now becoming aware of the benefits of postpartum family planning, both for mothers and babies.