Child malnutrition: 550 kids starving in Jawhar, Mokhada

Aug 05, 2013, 08:50 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Young, undernourished women in their teens give birth several times and in quick succession; grinding poverty and rampant unemployment means that their children live in squalor and are denied proper nutrition, safe drinking water, or even breast milk

Last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh labeled the problem of malnutrition as a matter of national shame. Almost a year later, figures obtained by MiD DAY indicate that little has been done in the state of Maharashtra to tackle this blight. The talukas of Jawhar and Mokhada alone are ailing with almost 550 malnourished children.

Abject: Many of the children are born underweight to undernourished, underage mothers, and the squalid, poverty-stricken conditions that they are born into (below) does not help improve their condition. Pics/Atul Kamble

According to doctors attached to the hospitals in these talukas, nearly 400 malnourished children are being treated at various primary health centres and rural hospitals.

Patients with severe ailments including waterborne diseases are referred to Cottage Hospital in Jawahar. Dr Ramdas Marad, paediatrician and superintendent of Cottage Hospital in Jawhar, said, “At present I am treating 24 malnourished children aged 0-6 years, of whom 23 are moderately and one severely malnourished. They were all referred to me from rural hospitals and primary heath centres. Six of them are being treated for diarrhoea and dysentery, and the rest are being treated for respiratory tract infections like cold and pneumonia.”

Children of a lesser god? Three-year-old Meena Gare is admitted in Cottage Hospital in Jawhar taluka with lower respiratory tract infection and severe malnutrition.

Asked why malnourishment is so pervasive in the areas, Marad attributed the problem to two primary factors – unhygienic living conditions and inadequate food which is inferior in quality.

This affects both mother and child, leading to inadequate production of breast milk. These factors are compounded when children are born in quick succession with few resources to go around. A cluster of other problems plaguing the villages worsens the situation -- unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and alcoholism are rampant, and the insistence on a male child means that most mothers have several children.

Thirty per cent of the babies delivered in these areas are underweight at birth, their mothers often below 18 years of age, and unable to care for themselves when pregnant.

“Efforts are being made by the Anganwadi and district child offices to ensure that the children are fed at least twice a day; these meals are provided under various government schemes including the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). Sadly, the food is insufficient for the child,” explained Neeta Kothare, assistant child development project officer in Jawhar.

Officials speak
The problem of malnourishment is very serious at the village/pada that I visited on Sunday. The matter will be discussed with the Health and Woman and Child department to find out ways to tackle the issue. However to start with, the tribal welfare department has decided to start a quarterly food subsidy of Rs 4,000 and will include the wife’s name with the husband in the account. Also, we are intending to give job to those skilled tribals who are unemployed at present so that they can make a livelihood. We are intending to provide accommodation to children who live below the poverty line and don’t have a home.
-- Rajendra Gavit, state Minister for Tribal and Woman Development

The state machinery has failed miserably in tackling malnourishment in the area. We have repeatedly discussed the problems at the basic level. Our efforts
of making the bureaucrats and government understand have not yielded any result so far.
-- Indavi Tulpule, activist, Shramik Mukti Sangathan (SMS), Shahpur Taluka

Both the central and state governments come up with various schemes in the name of tribal welfare and crores of rupees are spent on paper in the name of development, but the ground reality is that the tribes are deprived of basic necessities. The root of corruption has gone to such a level that even newborn children are dying as they do not receive adequate quality food.
-- Ravi Shivade, vice-president, Shiv Sena, Thane (rural)

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