Majority of the infants who died of malnutrition were found to be underweight

The State government has failed to fully activate its existing machinery to prevent the death of infants in tribal settlements in the Attappady Hills.

The majority of the 36 infants who died of malnutrition in Attappady were found to be underweight — their weight ranged between 650 grams and 1,300 grams as against the normal required weight of 2,500 to 3,000 grams.

Health Department officials said most of the women who had lost their children were anaemic and had given birth prematurely.

The government had recently announced 70 additional posts of doctors and para-medical staff at the Kottathara Tribal Specialty Hospital and the three Public Health Centres in Attappady.

The decision was announced three weeks ago as part of the health package for Attappady, but the government notification has not yet reached Attappady. Doctors and other para-medical staff are reluctant to work in Attappady owing to lack of basic amenities.

Lack of amenities

There are no government quarters in Attappady. The quarters for doctors constructed at the Kottathara Tribal Specialty is incomplete. The Health Department had asked the government to allot the quarters of the now defunct Attappady Hill Area Development Society (AHADS) in Agali. However, the AHADS authorities did not hand over the quarters on the ground that they had not been vacated by the employees retrenched more than a year ago.

The AHADS employees complained that they had not been paid salary for over a year now. P.E. Usha, deputy director of AHADS who has reverted to her home department of Kozhikode University, is on a satyagraha at the AHADS office in Agali demanding her pending salary.

The Tribal Specialty Hospital at Kottathara had no gynaecologist so far. After lot of efforts by the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), they finally appointed a doctor on contract last week.

Anganwadis

There are 172 anganwadis in Attappady to take care of pregnant women and tribal children. But there was only one supervisor when infant deaths struck Attappady recently.

The government, as part of the health package, had decided to fill the nine vacancies of anganwadi supervisors. So far, five supervisors have joined duty. But they have not started work for want of government vehicles to take them to the anganwadis in the remote areas of the Attappady Hills.

The anganwadis are under the control of three grama panchayats — Sholayur, Pudur, and Agali.

The grama panchayats allot funds for providing nutritious food and infrastructure facilities for the running of anganwadis. The cost estimated for providing nutritious food during the current financial year in the 172 anganwadis was Rs.60 lakh. But what the grama panchayats had allotted was a mere Rs.7 lakh so far.

There are three Primary Health Centres and 28 sub-centres under it.

There are three Health mobile units. But these mobile units that are vital to reach urgent medical help to the tribal hamlets, especially in the remote areas, remain immobilised for lack of vehicles for doctors and the medical staff to move around. These are also under the grama panchayats.

The Pudur grama panchayat has a mobile unit. But it remains immobilised as there are no funds for purchasing diesel for the vehicle. The three Primary Health Centres have no vehicles. The ICDS officials supervising works in Attappady also do not have vehicles to visit various anganwadies, the officials of the Social Welfare Department said.