Says Kerala health model has failed in tribal heartland

B. Ekbal, public health activist and neurosurgeon, who headed a six-member medical expert team appointed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to study the health problems faced by the tribal people of Attappady, has said that “what the team saw in this tribal heartland is silent genocide.”

The team has been sent to study the problems and suggest remedial measures as 48 tribal infants died of malnutrition during the past 16 months in the hill region.

Addressing presspersons here on Tuesday, he said: “The tribal population is facing extinction in Attappady. If the government does not intervene to stop this genocide, it will remain a black mark on Kerala society.”

He said such a grave situation had not developed suddenly, but over many years. So no particular government or political party was to blame. Everybody was responsible for this deteriorating situation.

He said the medical team, during its two-day visit to the tribal hamlets, found that 99 per cent of the tribal women were anaemic. Almost all tribal children were malnourished.

Dr. Ekbal said the Kerala health model had failed in Attappady. He would no more speak about the model, which claimed that the State had achieved health standards on a par with those of some developed nations. But in Attappady, the health standards were much below the average health indicators of India. The infant mortality rate in Attappady was 66 per 1,000 births as against the national average of 40.

He said intervening in the health sector alone would be insufficient to address the grave situation in the tribal area. An integrated approach covering other sectors too was required.

He urged Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to appoint a young, dynamic IAS officer to coordinate the works of various departments in Attappady to implement the various special packages announced by the government.

No coordination

He said that what one could see was total anarchy in Attappady. There was no coordination among the various departments and the three grama panchayats to take urgent steps to provide relief in this emergency situation.

He said that tribal people were supplied the Matta variety of rice through ration shops, which they did not eat. They should be supplied their traditional food. Thus, there should be structural changes in the rationing system. Nutritious food such as milk, egg and bananas should be directly supplied to the Anganwadis. Accredited social health activists, Anganwadi workers and Integrated Child Development Scheme promoters should be given reorientation training to take up new challenges in Attappady.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme should be restarted in Attappady to provide employment to the tribal population. The tribal people should be brought back to their traditional agriculture, which had ensured food security to them.

The Right to Forest Act should be implemented in Attappady to provide land to landless people. It was only in Kerala that the Act had not been implemented.

Dr. Ekbal suggested that the Tribal Specialty Hospital at Kottathara be made a medical college, where a certain percentage of seats should be reserved for tribal students.

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