Despite significant efforts to improve child healthcare, the infant mortality rate in the country was still an area of grave concern, said UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday.

She was speaking at the launch of Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) — an initiative of Child Health Screening and early intervention service at Palghar in Maharashtra’s Thane district.

Expressing satisfaction at Maharashtra’s fund utilisation of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), she said the UPA government had given a total of Rs. 90,000 crore to the States over a period of seven years to firm up their health apparatus.

As the thrust was on bolstering healthcare in remote areas, Palghar, a predominantly tribal belt, was chosen by the UPA government for launching the Rs. 130-crore RBSK under the NHRM, Ms. Gandhi said.

The initiative aims to provide a comprehensive healthcare package for all children up to 18 by conflating earlier programmes where children up to six years of age were examined in anganwadis by a medical officer, while those from six to 18 years were covered under the School Health Programme.

The programme would soon be extended to all districts of the country in a phased manner. This ambitious scheme, when implemented, is expected to benefit approximately 27 crore children across the country.

“Children are the future of the country. Their well-being is our concern which is why the UPA government has initiated such programmes,” Ms. Gandhi said.

In Thane district, more than 4,600 schools are proposed to be covered under the scheme with more than 12 lakh children up to 18 years of age expected to be the beneficiaries with the long-term aim of stemming instances of child morbidity.

The district has a high infant mortality rate as manifested by the common prevalence of child deaths and malnutrition in areas such as Jawhar and Mokhada.

As per the scheme, dedicated five-member teams will be established at the taluka level, comprising two medical officers, one auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) and one pharmacist. Around three teams are to be provided for every block.

Medical teams will carry out screening of all the children up to six years enrolled at anganwadi centres at least twice a year besides screening all children enrolled in government and government-aided schools.

A set of 30 common ailments have been identified for screening and early intervention, including birth and heart defects, deficiency conditions, developmental delays and disabilities such as hearing impairment and vision impairment.

As part of the programme, District Early Intervention Centres are to be made operational in all districts to treat cases referred from block levels. Tertiary health services would also be made available for cases requiring surgery.

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