Attappady infant deaths: Govt in the dock


CG Sankar

According to the Project Officer of Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) VK Suresh Kumar a sum of nearly Rs1.6 lakhs is spent every year for each tribal family through the 30 welfare schemes of the government for their welfare.

The children in Keezhethudukki in-front of the closed anganwadi.

Attappady: Lack of proper monitoring of the implementation of various welfare schemes of tribal population coupled with the lackadaisical attitude of the concerned officials in making the tribes aware of the reason behind infant deaths and their deteriorating health conditions are the major causes of infant deaths in Attappady, finds Mathrubhumi.com investigation.

Concerned officials have cited consanguineous marriages, usage of drug by tribal population and alienation of tribal lands are the major causes of various problems, including infant deaths, faced by them. Despite knowing this for years, the officials concerned have not moved any finger for addressing these issues.

Nearly 50% women in Attappady are underweight

According to a doctor at Kottathara Government Tribal Specialty Hospital, nearly 50 percent of the women in Attappady are underweight and weak so that they can not give birth to a healthy baby. Lack of nutrient-rich diet is pointed out as the key reason for ill-health among them.

The six-layer system formed to take care of the health of the tribal population has proven ineffective. Anganwadi teacher and helper, ASHA worker, tribal animator, tribal promoter and junior public health nurse are supposed to visit each tribal settlement twice a week to closely monitor their health conditions and to educate them. The people in the settlements said none of them visit their settlements.

The children in Keezhethudukki in-front of the closed anganwadi.
The children in Keezhethudukki in-front of the closed anganwadi.

Anganwadis and community kitchens remain shut

Mathrubhumi.com during the visit to various settlements has found that anganwadis in many settlements remain non-functional for months and the community kitchen formed to feed them remain shut.

A man inside the dilapidated community kitchen in Attappady.
A tribal man inside a dilapidated community kitchen in Attappady.

Less than 100 community kitchens and anganwadis are operational in the 192 tribal settlements in Attappady. When visited Melethodukki, Keezhethodukki, Galasi, Oothukuzhi and all Mathrubhumi.com found that the community kitchens and anganwadis were not operational. The kids in the settlements were also denied nutrient food, which have to be provided through anganwadis.

“Anganwadi teacher does not like to visit our settlement. However, she receives salary. It was through anganwadis, our kids got nutrient-rich food. With its closure, we provide rice and tomato curry only to them,” said Kali, grandmother of four-year-old kurumba.

The district collector and ITDP officer however claimed that all anganwadis and community kitchens are functional in all the settlements. A claim which was proven wrong during the visit of Mathrubhumi.com.

According to the Project Officer of Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) VK Suresh Kumar a sum of nearly Rs1.6 lakhs is spent every year for each tribal family through the 30 welfare schemes of the government for their welfare.

“Apparently, the living standard or health condition of the tribes have not been improved and a detailed probe has to be held to find out where the money goes,” said Maruthi, President of Thaykulasangham.

Welfare schemes not reaching tribes

There are many welfare schemes, including 'Janani Janma Raksha Scheme' and 'Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram (JSSK), to to benefit pregnant tribal women for safe delivery.

Through the first scheme Rs2,000 will be provided for every pregnant woman for a period of 18 months from the first month of pregnancy. In total, a sum of Rs36,000 will be provided through the scheme. JSSK scheme of National Rural Health mission helps to cover the entire medical expenses of pregnant women.

In addition to these, many other schemes are also available for the welfare of tribal families in Attappady. Mathrubhumi.com during the visit to Attappady has met hundreds of tribal families who are not even aware of the welfare schemes.

The 20-year-old woman, Geetha from Veettiyoor tribal settlement, whose baby died three days after delivery on November 24 told Mathrubhumi.com that she has not received any of the benefits from the government during pregnancy. “I have applied through 'Janani Janma Raksha Scheme' for getting Rs 36,000. However, I have not received the money,” said Usha.

According to the data provided by ITDP, there are 226 pregnant women in Attappady. Mathrubhumi.com, however, found that pregnant women from some settlements have not been included in the list. Mathrubhumi.com met pregnant women in Kadukumanna, Anawayi, Oothukuzhi and all. However, they have not been taken care of by the health workers so far.

Infant deaths go unreported

Mathrubhumi.com met Usha (25) from Keezhethodukki whose baby died soon after delivery on June 13 this year. The death of her baby was not included in the list of infant deaths in Attappady.

Tribals during an interaction with Mathrubhumi.com at a settlement in Attappady.
Usha (third left) with her relatives at a tribal settlement in Attappady.

“I was pregnant for six months. There was no one to take care of me. I had to walk nine kilometres inside the forest to reach the road to visit the tribal hospital in Kottathara, which is around 30 kilometers from my house. On June 13, I visited the hospital and the doctor there asked me to undergo scanning. It was on the sixth-month of pregnancy I was scanned. After scanning the lady doctor there told me that my baby was safe and I returned home. At night, I got pain and I delivered baby abruptly. The baby died soon after delivery. No health worker visited me during pregnancy and I have not received any support from the government through any of the schemes,” said Usha.

The community kitchen and anganwadi near Usha's house have been remaining shut for over six months now. “I never received nutrient food through anganwadi or community kitchen,” added Usha.

This is not an isolated incident, there are hundreds of pregnant women in Attappady who have been neglected or uncared by the health workers.

As per the details provided by the district health department, 280 births per year have been taking place among tribals in Attappady every year. The infant mortality rate is recorded is 4.5 percent. However, many of the infant deaths go unnoticed in Attappady; like what had happened to Usha. None of the health workers knows Usha and the hospital has not even recorded the death of her baby.

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