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A Fragile Existence: Lives of the Women and Children of the Indian Sundarbans. A Documentary Film & Photo Voice Collection


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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A Fragile Existence: Lives of the Women and Children of the Indian Sundarbans. A Documentary Film & Photo Voice Collection

Future Health Systems

The resilience of the poor communities of the Indian Sundarbans is challenged on a daily basis by the ‘wicked’ problem of climatic shocks and poverty, and exacerbated by a weak health system. No one is closer to this knife edge than the children and women of the Indian Sundarbans.

Their present and future health and wellbeing are determined by the environment they live in, and the support and care they receive. The message is clear: their survival is indubitably dependent on improving the region’s buckling health care system, so that it supports those most in need.

Two new pieces of work by the Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR) University, a partner in the UK Department for International Development funded Future Health Systems (FHS) research consortium, provide stark and illuminating visual evidence of the plight of these isolated and vulnerable communities in Indian West Bengal.

Launched on Friday 29 May 2015 at the Kolkata Press Club, a powerful 27 minute film entitled ‘How Healthy are the Children of the Indian Sundarbans?’ documents the critical problems faced by the children of the Sundarbans, including its poorly functioning and under resourced health care system.

Also launched at the same event, is a booklet titled ‘Social Determinants of Health: A Photo Voice Exploration from the Indian Sundarbans’. It is the result of a unique community-led research initiative called Photo Voice, by which women of these island communities tell the story of health care in the Sundarbans through photography. It shows how the health care system is seen from the ground, and reveals imagination and experience beyond the wit of distant researchers or policymakers.

Over the last six years, IIHMR University has been carrying out research to understand and identify the health status and needs of the children of the Indian Sundarbans. The research has centred on visually documenting the health care system for children in the Sundarbans and working alongside women in these island communities to tell their stories.

By working in this way, the FHS team at IIHMR University have broken the hierarchical knowledge boundaries of traditional researcher-led studies. Here the women villagers of the Sundarbans are members of the research team contributing directly to an approach through which their voices are heard.

Through the launch of the visual evidence, FHS aims to build awareness of the problems faced by poor communities in the fragile setting of the Indian Sundarbans and guide the development and implementation of social policies that lead to the better health of the children and women that live there.