Death of infants due to birth defects including malnutrition is a concern in the tribal regions of Attappady despite targeted interventions aimed at improving the health conditions of pregnant women and adolescent girls.
The death of twin boys of a Kurumba couple in Pudur village last week has brought the infant death toll in the region this year to 14. Last year, eight children died of birth defects in the region.
Health officials said the twins born to Surabhi and Krishnan weighed 900 gm each. One of them was stillborn and the other died four days after birth. The premature delivery happened during the seventh month.
Surabhi was admitted to the Government Tribal Specialty Hospital at Kottathara on December 11 following stomach pain.
She was shifted to the Medical College Hospital, Coimbatore, where she gave birth to the twins.
The health parameters of pregnant and lactating women and adolescent girls in the tribal hamlets of Attappady are being monitored by the Health Department since 2012-13, when the region witnessed 63 infant deaths.
Since then, the Centre and and the State had spent over ₹400 crore for enhancing the living standards of the aborigines in the region, especially women.
Despite the targeted interventions, which include supply of nutritious meal through community kitchens, 672 tribal children in the region are suffering from malnutrition. Of this, 370 children had been found acutely malnourished, needing urgent attention.
Though malnutrition had been identified as the major reason for the death of infants till last year, birth defects had been cited for the deaths this year.
A Central team that visited Attappady in May identified malnutrition in pregnant women and adolescent girls as the major cause for the high infant mortality rate.
It was also found that the food supplied to pregnant women through the community kitchens was not up to the required norms.
“The community kitchens are required to provide milk, egg, pulses, millets, and quality rice to bridge the nutrition deficiencies. But in practice, only rice and one variety of pulses reach most of the kitchens.
Besides, anganwadi workers in charge of the community kitchens are now given additional responsibilities and are unable to concentrate on nutrition-related challenges,” says Rajendraprasad of tribal voluntary organisation Thambu.
Most of the malnutrition and infant mortality cases were reported from the remote areas of Pattimalam, Vellakulam, Nellipathi, Kottamala, Kavundikkal, Palur, Vattalakki, Kallakkara, Thoova, Upper Manjikandi, Lower Abbanur, Kolappadi, Chavadiyur, Upper Mulli, Veerakallu, and Bhoothivazhi.