A vicious nexus of ill-health, socio-economic backwardness and exclusion seems to have severely affected the tribal population in Attapady.

An assessment made by the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) at the Cochin University of Science and Technology found that unhealthy practices, traditional beliefs and genetically linked disorders might have led to the decrease in tribal population in Kerala by 0.1 per cent (as per the 2011 census) compared to 2001.

D. Rajasenan, director of the centre, said that these factors were mostly identified among the Irula and Kurumar communities in Attapady, and Paniyan and Kattunaikkan sections in Wayanad.

Explaining that the health of the tribal communities remains a major concern of development programmers, Dr. Rajasenan recalled that the tribal communities in Attappady own a rich tradition in health management.

“They once had a food habit which carried all the nutrition elements in their food. The Irula community has knowledge about more than 36 species of edible green leaves and these were added in their daily diet. Their staple food is ragi. They also used to consume various kinds of millets other than ragi. But these food habits have totally changed,” he said.

Stating that the free supply of rice through the public distribution system is one of the major reasons for the change in the food habits of the tribal communities, Dr. Rajasenan said this has limited their food to low quality rice. “Reduction in traditional farming also contributed a lot to this. Alcoholic addiction has increased their health problems. Infant mortality and maternal mortality rate are also higher among them than the State average”. Dr. K.P. Aravindan and Dr. M. Feroze, faculty members of the Kozhikode Medical College, who investigated the prevalence of sickle cell disease among the tribals, found that the sickle cell gene showed high prevalence among all the three tribal communities living in the region including Irula, Kurumba and Muduga.

The study had recommended a system to make proper diagnosis of all the patients and then give access to primary care to them on a priority basis. Researchers had also warned that the problem of sickle cell anaemia in Attappady and Wayanad is going to be an expanding one because more and more homozygotes (breeding organisms) are going to survive and reach adulthood.

Dr. Rajasenan said that the government schemes and assistance are not reaching the needy. Studies have found that there is a situation of absolute healthcare deprivation prevailing among the tribal communities.

Various factors have led to a decrease in tribal population of Kerala.