Teenage girls in rural areas have defeated anaemia

The trigger is a small analysis of internal loans took by self-help members of Vaigai Vattara Kalanjiam to cater only to medical needs of their children in 2005.

Thirteen year-old Oviya of Mankulam village takes an an Iron folic acid tablet every Thursday before she leaves for to school. “I need to increase my Hb (Haemoglobin) level to 12,” she says.

S. Mekala of Chathirapatti gets vegetables from her kitchen garden, cooks and packs for lunch. “I need to take nutritious and balanced lunch that keeps me hale and healthy,” she says. “Anaemia makes one feel tired and lethargic due to less oxygen supply in the body. The immune system is also affected and results in frequent infections,” says Mekala, a B.Com student.

Mekala and Oviya are part of the Adolescent girls group that has taken up the fight against anaemia among girls and women besides waging a war against social issues like child marriage.

In 2005, Self-help members of Vaigai Vattara Kalanjiam (VVK) had taken internal loans to cater to medical needs of their children. Eight years later the results are showing. Adolescent girl groups consisting of girls above 10 years, function under the guidance of VVK headed by Stree Shakti Puraskar winner Chinnapillai.

They meet every second Sunday and distribute iron tablets, de-worming medicine, health mix and vegetable seeds to grow in the kitchen garden. These groups have been so far formed in 89 villages involving 599 girl children. Of them, 333 girls have attained puberty.

“During the Kalanjiam’s initiative in 2005, it was shocking to find many teenage girls with Hb level as low as had 4.3 mg,” says R. Nageswari, co-ordinator Madurai Rural region.

As a measure of immediate intervention, the children were divided into four groups based on their haemoglobin levels – very severe, severe, moderate and normal. Now after continuous intervention and awareness, 90 percent of the girls have reached normal level (12 mg) while a few have above 10mg.

“Anaemia among adolescent girls and pregnant women has been a major issue in the country. Tackling it among adolescent girls is important as they are the future mothers,” points out the health co-ordinator K. Muthiah. In an attempt to change children’s attitude towards health and hygiene, coordinators texplained to them the importance of having good content of red blood corpuscles in the body. They also created awareness on hygiene and how to use the toilets and the use of chappals and sanitary napkins during menstrual cycle. “Earlier, we used cloth during periods and walked without slippers. Now, we know about hookworm infestation and how it reaches our stomach and the infection caused after the use of cloths,” says Asura of Mankulam.

“Besides health issues, we also learnt about different forms of pollutions, HIV/AIDS, government schemes etc,” says Satya.

These children are also effectively stopping child marriages from taking place in their villages.

“As soon as the talks are on for a marriage, we explain to parents the ill-effects of child marriage and many times they have listened to us,” she adds. The children group gather come together for their annual convention programme each year and share their experiences. This year, the girls displayed food items made from minor millets, participated in painting, speech, drama and dance competitions.