Sumona Karjee Mishra

Saving Expecting Mothers from Unexpected Complications

Sumona was excited - she was going to bring life into this world. She was going to be a mother! And then, in the blink of an eye, her own life was at risk...

I was born to a middle-class Bengali family who fell prey to an urban poor life after the demise of my father. We relocated to an unauthorised colony, Sagarpur in West-Delhi. We had a difficult early-life but that has not deterred my mother and me for continuing my education. As a result, I did my BSc(H) and MSc in Microbiology from Delhi University and thereafter, a PhD degree in Biotechnology from JNU, Delhi.

Like many educated women in our country, I too was an aspiring researcher and an academician aiming to serve the society that had supported me in many ways. However, the destiny has some other plans in store for me. I am Sumona Karjee Mishra - striving to bring respectful maternity care to every woman of amazing India.

It all began after marriage, when I was all excited to welcome new life into this world. Pregnancy, for a woman, is the most valuable experience in life and it was no different for me. Carrying a life in the womb for nine months is eternal bliss and I was brimming with excitement until the 26th week of my pregnancy, when my blood pressure shot up suddenly to beyond a controllable range.

I was immediately hospitalised. And after three days of battle between life and death, I delivered my baby girl. She was named Shraavya, and she weighed 960 grams from being born prematurely. She stayed at NICU of Sitaram Bhartia Hospital for 45 days before coming home.

It was only later that I realised that the condition that had occured to me is a pregnancy complication called Preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is clinically identified as the sudden increase in maternal blood pressure but in reality, it represents nutritional and oxygen starvation of the unborn baby in the womb. This also means multi-organ damage of the mother carrying the baby, and if not intervened timely, it means convulsion and death.

I learnt that Preeclampsia complicates ~10 million pregnancies/year, claiming more than 18% maternal-mortality and 15% preterm-birth. In such pregnancy-complications, the conditions remain unrecognised till well advanced mainly due to lack of early diagnostics, resulting in heart-rending situations.

As an educated woman I decided to work on the condition symptoms, detection, and prevention to ensure a safe motherhood for millions of woman like me. And for that, I founded Prantae Solutions in 2015 - a socially responsible enterprise (registered under company act 2013). My organisation is now a 75% women workforce making efforts to develop affordable and early-diagnostics for pregnancy-complications using state-of- the-art technologies.

In India the pregnancy is considered as God’s gift and any complication during pregnancy is considered a woman’s mistake. So to create awareness, I started writing in newspapers and on social media on various aspects of pregnancy and pregnancy-complications.

But it was also important to know the problem from the close circuit... In 2005, I got an opportunity to work as a Social Innovation Immersion Fellow under a program run by Department of Biotechnology and BIRAC. For that, I have traveled to remote villages of Odisha, maternity wards of tertiary care hospitals, interviewed the Preeclampsia sufferers, interacted with ASHA, ANMs, O&Gs.

The need for early diagnosis of the disorder was pertinent. Early diagnosis can save many lives that get complicated by the pregnancy disorder. Early diagnosis can buy them the time to access a health-care facility established kilometers away from them, the tertiary care hospitals. With this mission, I started the journey of my ‘Entrepreneurship towards Respectful Maternity’.

The next step was to arrange funds. I started applying for various grants and made many presentations. There were rejections, but hope never left me. In 2016, I got my first grant from Tata Trust - Harvard SAI Social Innovation Grant (2016). I, along with my husband, started working on the project and produced proof of concept within 6 months. This enabled us to apply for further funding and eventually, in 2017 we got three more sources of funding from MSME, DST-NIDHI-PRAYAS and DBT-BIRAC-BIG. These grants are not just financial assistance, they also give us the motivation to walk ahead.

We have developed technology that can demarcate a healthy pregnancy from the pregnancy with complications. We are now taking it a step ahead by making it affordable and operator friendly.
It is a long journey but I am sure we will be able to empower women by ensuring their survival over the preventable causes of mortality during pregnancy.

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