Banoo Jehangir Coyaji Birth: August 22, 1918
Death: July 15, 2004
Achievements: Padma Bhushan in 1989 Punya Bhushan in 1991 for her work in reproductive health.Ramon Magsaysay award in 1993 Rameshwardas Birla National award for 1992-93 .
Physician and activist in family planning and population control, Coyaji was director of King Edward Memorial Hospital in Pune, and started programmes of community health workers in rural areas of Maharashtra. She became an advisor to the Union government and an internationally recognised expert.She received one of the highest civilian award the Padma Bhushan from the union government in 1989 and later the prestigious Punya Bhushan in 1991 for her work in reproductive health. She also received the Ramon Magsaysay award for 1993 and the Rameshwardas Birla national award for 1992-93 which comprised a grant to enable her to continue her research in child care and family planning.
Born as Banoo Pestonjee Kapadia , into a well-to-do Parsi family and educated in Bombay she was the first girl to pass the matriculate exam from St Vincent's - an all boys school. She simultaneously appeared for her senior Cambridge exam from the Convent of Jesus and Mary, went on to become a doctor and earned an MD degree in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. In 1944 she embarked upon her medical career at Pune's King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEM), a privately funded maternity hospital of some forty beds which she later turned into a modern 550 bed medical research institute and teaching hospital affiliated to the B J Medical college. She was its chief medical officer and the managing director. Being less than five ft tall, she used to perform surgeries while standing on a stool.
In 1972 Coyaji established a primary health centre at Vadu, a village 40 km away from Pune which has now grown into Shirdi Saibaba rural hospital that caters to many nearby villages. Based on its success she launched a community health care scheme in 1977 where she had a team of 600 local girls trained in nutrition, hygiene, sanitation and family planning. These girls visited rural areas offering training and medical relief. This model was later used in many developing countries and she always pushed for quality community health care at both national and international level. Meanwhile, researchers at KEM probed rural health issues scientifically and monitored the dramatic decline in infant mortality and other positive trends in the area.
Surveying the strengths and weaknesses of her program in the mid-1980s, Coyaji noted that the needs of pre-adolescent and adolescent girls were almost wholly neglected. Burdened by poverty and their low status as females, these young women entered upon their adult roles as mothers and breadwinners with little formal schooling and virtually no instruction in vital matters of family life. Through the Young Women's Health and Development Project, inaugurated in 1988, she introduced community welfare workers to eleven villages. Their task is to instruct girls and young women in new livelihood skills such as sewing and embroidery and in other practical arts. They also provide essential information about women's health and family life and encourage frank discussions about caste and gender relations. Songs, games, and holiday festivities complement the formal classes. Through their ongoing exposure to the program, young women are gaining confidence to pursue educations and to resist unwanted early marriages. On their own initiative, several of them now lead village cleanliness and tree planting campaigns and teach their mothers to read.
Coyaji handled many important posts including consultant and advisor to the union government in matters of family planning and population control, member of Indian Council of Medical Research and senate member of the University of Pune. She also worked with World Health Organisation, World Bank, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller foundation and United Nations Family Planning Association.
Besides her passion for medicine and social causes, Coyaji was interested in literature, something she inherited from her father Pestonjee Kapadia who wrote under the pseudonym Hairat. She was associated with local Marathi daily Sakal and was its director for more than 30 years. She took special tuition in Marathi. She was conferred with honorary D Litt degrees by the University of Pune and SNDT University in 1994.
Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation