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WomenStrong International’s “Empower” Project in India Screens Thousands of Young Girls for Anemia

Washington, D.C. (January 19, 2016)

WomenStrong International, a consortium of non-profit organizations in five nations supporting women-driven solutions to extreme urban poverty, announced today that more 4,000 adolescent girls have been successfully screened and treated for anemia in the first phase of a joint project with the Dhan Foundation .

Anemia is caused by iron and folate deficiency that results in too few oxygen-carrying red blood cells. It is most prevalent in women and is associated with increased risk of infection, impaired cognitive function, premature births and increased infant and maternal mortality.

In India, an estimated 60% of all deaths of women in childbirth are either directly caused by anemia or have anemia as a contributing factor. Easily preventable with inexpensive iron and folic acid tablets, anemia remains a problem for women worldwide due to poverty, malnutrition, disease and poor access to healthcare.

“We are proud to be supporting Dhan Foundation in their far-reaching efforts to help women and girls address a widespread and serious health issue,” said Dr. Susan Blaustein, Executive Director of WomenStrong International . “Health is a human right and one of the 6 Essential Needs that must be met to allow women to lift themselves out of poverty.”

Of the 4,243 girls screened in the southern city of Madurai, 87.5% were found to be anemic, and a quarter of those tested were severely anemic. All the girls with anemia were treated, and the most severe cases referred to the community hospital. The program also provided Iron-folic acid tablets to adolescent girls to treat the anemia and prevent recurrence, and offered critically important health education for girls, women and their families to raise awareness and address the nutritional deficiency that causes the condition. A second round of anemia testing will take place at the end of the year.

Screening was conducted by leveraging a network of grassroots, women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs), built around a community microfinance banking program. Over more than two decades, the Dhan Foundation has created nearly 41,000 Self-Help Groups in villages and urban slums across 12 Indian states, supporting more than 600,000 families in their efforts to climb out of deep poverty.

Microfinance plays a “starter” role in community organizing. Once established, the Self-Help Groups become the focal point for reaching women and families with programs that meet other needs, such as housing support, education and skills-building, sanitation and health. Through existing groups in Madurai, Dhan identified girls at risk for anemia in 13,000 families, then screened them and offered health education to raise awareness of anemia. Because these girls are most often kept at home, they are not always easy to find and help.

WomenStrong’s partnership with Dhan, run under the name EMPOWER: WomenStrong Madurai, also organized those who were screened into 325 adolescent girl Self-Help Groups that will receive education in health, nutrition, hygiene, vocational skills, as well as programs to keep them in school.

In addition, EMPOWER has organized 1,100 women into 87 groups for savings programs so far, with more groups planned for the coming year. These women set their own agendas, and have prioritized improved sanitation and reduced alcoholism as areas for action in 2016. Alcoholism among men diverts cash from impoverished families and is a major contributor to rampant domestic violence.

“In every country where we work and in every program we support, our initiatives have three things in common: they leverage the power of women’s groups, they are determined by the women themselves and they focus on meeting the 6 Essential Needs for health, shelter, safety, education, economic empowerment and a functioning urban environment,” Dr. Blaustein said. “In India, anemia screenings mark real progress, and we are proud of our support for the remarkable accomplishment of Dhan.”


The Dhan Foundation ( is a veteran development organization founded in India and based on the Gandhian principles of justice and satyagraha, or leadership. Dhan relies on the integrity and social capital within communities to chart their own deliberate paths toward self-empowerment. Dhan has been working with under-resourced urban and rural populations both in the Madurai region and all over India for 30 years, partnering with local and national government, health systems, the private sector and other NGOs whenever doing so holds promise for improving the lives of India’s poor. The anemia screening project is a flagship program of the Dhan Foundation.


WomenStrong International is a consortium of non-profit organizations in five nations supporting women-driven solutions to extreme urban poverty. WSI emerged from a decade of work at Columbia University’s Millennium Cities Initiative where we found the most successful programs were local and led by women. Through our Consortium members in Ghana, Kenya, Haiti, India, and Washington, D.C., we help thousands of women and girls meet their 6 Essential Needs for health, shelter, safety, education, economic empowerment and a functioning urban environment. These women, in turn, improve the lives of their children, families, communities and nations. WSI believes the path out of poverty and toward a more just and prosperous world can be found by making women strong. For more information, visit

Media Contact

Dr. Susan M. Blaustein

Founder and Executive Director


About WomenStrong International

WomenStrong International is a global community of organizations working with women and girls to end extreme urban poverty. We start and end by listening to urban women and girls, who know best what they need, in order to thrive. WomenStrong finds, funds, nurtures, and shares women-driven solutions that can transform lives. Learn More