Four year old Ravina, one of the fourteen children at the Nutritional Rehabilitation Center (NRC) in Dharani tehsil of Amravati district of Maharashtra, cannot walk on her own.
Ravina suffers from severe deficiencies of calcium and other minerals, says Dr. Sushil Chavhan, the Medical Officer of Dharani hospital.
According to Dr. Chavhan, almost every second child in Melghat region in Amravati suffers from what Ravina suffers, the malnutrition.
Melghat comprises of Dharani and Chikhaldhara tehsils of Amravati district and has been witnessing 460 child deaths on an average every year in the last five years, of various causes linked to malnutrition.
According to the Government’s own statistics, between April 2012 and March 2013, Melghat reported 408 child deaths and 129 still births.
Since January till June this year, 62 child deaths and 23 still births have been reported from Melghat, informed Dr. Kishor Bobde, the Additional District Health Officer (ADHO), in charge of Melghat.
But Dr. Bobde also says the number increases specially between the months of July to October every year.
“As per our survey in June this year, there are 392 children in Sever Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and 2,567 in Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) category” said Dr. Bobde.
But if Dr. Chavhan is to be believed, the situation in Melghat in terms of child deaths has “improved”.
“During last one year, we managed to bring down the total number of child deaths by 100” says Dr. Chavhan who thinks “ the lack of awareness and carelessness on the part of parents “ is leading to child deaths.
But health care facilities in Melghat which has witnessed more than 10,000 child deaths in last ten years remain abysmal.
For the population of over 3 lakhs in Melghat, there is only one Sub-District hospital, two rural hospitals and 11 Primary Health Centres (PHC).
But for a region which has already witnessed thousands of Child deaths, there is only one paediatrician and no Gynaecologist.
“Yes, it’s true, there is no expert doctors in Melghat and only 10 MBBS doctors at the PHC level” informs the ADHO.
“This is not the only problem, the government claims to have provided all the resources but there are villages in Melghat which could not be reached during rainy season. There are PHCs without electricity. There are ambulances which are gathering dust instead of saving life” says Bandya Sane of KHOJ Melghat, a group working in Melghat for more than 15 years now.
When visited by this reporter, the PHC in Hataru village had almost all the equipment provided by the administration including a Fax machine, Electronic Weighing machine, a brand new computer, a big refrigerator for medicines apart from all other medical equipment.
The only thing missing was electricity.
“Last time I saw this fan running, was at the time of Panchyat polls last year” says Usha Bagade, the ANM at Hataru PHC.
This electricity less PHC, which hardly has any medicine stock, provides healthcare facilities to the population of 1,150 people in Hataru block, says the ADHO Bobde.
Then there is Tembrusoda PHC in Chikhaldara tehsil with 7 doctors, which provides healthcare facilities to 41 villages with the population of 31,000.
“It’s next to impossible for us to provide healthcare to such a huge population plus we have to look after this problem of malnutrition” says Dr. Yogesh Gawande of Tembrusoda PHC who has to handle 150 patients every day.
Tembrusoda witnessed 10 child deaths and 3 still births until June this year.
Another PHC in Harisal town has to look after 26 villages with the population of 23,854.
“There are 36 child deaths and 13 still births in first six months of 2013 in Harisal and surrounding villages” informed Dr. Vinod Ghadsingh of Harisal PHC, who suspended two ANMs under his jurisdiction for the death of Gita Mulchand Chilate in Kekdabad village on July 23.
“The lady died because the ambulance did not reach in time to Kekadbad” says Dr. Ghadsingh who also expressed anguish over the lack of expert doctors in Melghat.
The PHC in Sadravadi block covers the area of 39 villages and provides health care facilities to 44,578 people.
Provided with only two doctors, Sadravadi PHC has seen nine child deaths and two still births since the month of April this year.
Village after village, PHC after PHC, Melghat portrays an ugly picture of Government apathy towards this region dominated by Korku Adivasis, despite being in news constantly for Child deaths due to malnutrition.
“Not only child deaths and still births, Melghat is also ahead in maternal deaths. Almost every second mother in Melghat is anaemic. With the Haemoglobin level of less than 5, every woman who is expecting a child here is risking her life” says Dr. Ghadsing.
“There are cultural reasons, lack of awareness. People do get involved in superstitions. But it’s the government’s responsibility to bring awareness but with the kind of healthcare facilities being provided in Melghat, the problem of child deaths due to malnutrition can hardly be tackled” says Bandya Sane.
When asked about the problems of Melghat, Amravati Collector Rahul Ranjan Mahiwal said, "There is no dearth of money, but there are logistic problems. Then there are cultural reasons and superstitions. People are not inclined to work in Melghat. But we are trying to improve the situation".