In May 2019, Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex visited a health programme run by the Aga Khan Health Services at the Sir Elly Kadoorie School and Junior College in Mumbai, India. The Countess was on a five-day visit to India to see the work of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has made a significant contribution to the Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission) launched by the Indian Government in 2014. The nation-wide campaign aims to clean up the streets, roads, and infrastructure of India’s towns, cities, and rural areas.

In an effort to help realise this aspiration, AKDN agencies in India have improved sanitation facilities for tens of thousands of households in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. AKDN institutions have also won awards including the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) India Sanitation Coalition Award for the Best Non-Profit Engagement in Sanitation in 2017, and the Dainik Bhaskar Award for improved health outcomes from sanitation in 2019. 

A key component of Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan includes the improvement of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in schools all over India. This involves providing access to sanitary pads, access to safe disposal, and providing MHM education to adolescent girls in schools. The Aga Khan Health Service (AKHS) in India has made this a key focus area, in partnership with corporate donors such as Crisil, SONY, and the Times of India group.

Her Royal Highness was welcomed to the Sir Elly Kadoorie School by Amin Manekia, Chairman of AKHS, India; Deane Menezes, a Queen’s Young Leader, and founder of the NGO Red is the new Green; and the Principal of the school. Mr Manekia briefed the Countess on the various activities conducted by AKHS and the Prince Alykhan Hospital for the vulnerable population in Mumbai and India.

Dr Kranti Rayamane, Director of Community Health at AKHS India, explained the impact made by work to raise awareness of MHM, after a survey showed that a large percentage of young girls had little to no knowledge of menstruation, and that many faced restrictions from participation in school activities, or remained absent from school during menstruation.

The Countess interacted with the trained teachers, adolescent girls, and parents. She was also shown the sanitary pad vending machines and incinerators installed in the school premises as part of the programme. 

The programme is currently being implemented in 21 schools in Mazgaon, Mumbai, benefitting over 7,400 girls, including two Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) schools in Mumbai. The intervention includes supply of sanitary vending machines, portable incinerators and providing MHM education. Over 200 school teachers have been trained in MHM, and an interpersonal tool for communication with girls and a teacher’s manual has been developed.

Her Royal Highness expressed appreciation for the courageous and important work done by AKDN institutions in the region, and was heartened to see the programme being implemented professionally and with sensitivity. She extended her best wishes for the success of teachers and children in Mumbai and India. 

Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex is married to Prince Edward, The Earl of Wessex, the youngest son of Her Majesty the Queen, and Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh.

The Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan campaign contributes to India reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 6, which calls for sustainable clean water and sanitation for all. The campaign was launched to realise Mahatma Ghandi’s aspiration of a clean India, and counts various public figures as ambassadors, including Amitabh Bacchan, Priyanka Chopra, and Sachin Tendulkar.