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619 babies died hungry last year

Following Mid Day's expose on much of the 2010 child welfare budget spent on purchasing stationery and utensils, our reporter travels to Nashik district to find that malnutrition is a reality the tribals grapple with every day

Twenty two month-old Omkar Mahale is not a happy child. The boy, born in December 2009, has been listed in the 'Severely Underweight' category by the local child development centre in Harsul village near Nashik.


Omkar Mahale on mother Kalpana's lap at their home
in Harsul village, Nashik. Omkar has been classified 
as a malnourished child by the anganwadi centre in Waighol


This, despite the local anganwadi supplying his family with one kilo of Take Home Ration (THR) packets a ready-to-eat mixture containing the requisite nutrients, stipulated by the Central Government every month.

Sadly, Omkar's case is not unique, as this reporter found when she travelled to the villages around Nashik district to report on the state of the health of tribals after Mid DAY's expose on the wasteful expenditure scam that is robbing malnourished kids of food ('450 kids starve to death').
 
According to figures quoted by the local Zilla Parishad, 619 children between the age group of 0-1 years have died here in the past year.

Obviously, despite spending crores on improving the health conditions of women and children living in remote areas of the state, deaths continue.

Problems are aplenty. For one, these villages are mostly occupied by tribals who do not respond to overtures made by local anganwadis.

Secondly, as Mahale's parents Kalpana and Tyembkar told us, "We have the food packets at home and try to feed Omkar everyday, but he doesn't like it. He is breast-fed and does not like to consume this packaged food."

Surprisingly, while Omkar has not shown much growth since his birth, and his weight has remained low for his height and age, his twin brother, Om is doing better.

"Every month, the Take Home Ration (THR) is given to his parents, but maybe the food is not consumed, since he has not shown much growth in the past few months," said a supervisor from the Waighol aanganwadi, where Omkar is checked.

The THR is a packaged food mix that is to be blended in warm water or fried in oil. For older children, upma or sheera is provided. Three such 1 kg packets are provided every month, and the supply can be increased, depending on the condition of the child.

Kalpana says, "The doctors say my body doesn't produce much milk, and it's not enough for both my children. Om consumes a lot, due to which Omkar hasn't been very strong since his birth."

According to Dr Sangita Patil, Chairman of the Child and Women Welfare Committee in Nashik, that is a problem with most women in the area, who get married and conceive at a young age, due to which they suffer from ill health. Tyembkar, however, blames the system.
 
"The government has put some thought behind the packaged THR, but the kids do not like the taste. Also, once the packets are opened, they spoil if they aren't stored properly."

His brother and Waighol's Sarpanch, Bhagwan Mahale, agrees. "The government should monitor whether the children actually consume the food packets. There is no inspection or follow-ups by higher officials."

According to figures, in August, 11,308 malnourishment cases among kids were reported in 26 projects (group of hamlets) in the Nashik district, while 16,662 were counted in June.

Patil blames the custom of marrying early for the problem. "When the mothers don't pay attention to their own health, their children are born weak. Miscarriages and childbirth deaths are common. Early marriages need to be prevented," she says.

The figures bear out her claim. Around 139 pregnant women have died in the past year while 1,005 miscarriages have been reported in Nashik alone.

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