Row over infant deaths at Attappady

Health dept blames milk aspiration; tribal activists want expert panel to look into cases

Published - December 02, 2018 10:37 pm IST - Attappady (Palakkad)

A controversy is brewing in Attappady over the reason for a few infant deaths in the tribal area. As per Health Department figures, six of the 11 infants who died since January this year in Attappady were victims of milk aspiration, where the accidental entry of mother’s milk into the baby’s windpipe leads to death.

However, tribal rights activists in the region are not convinced. “There is an increasing tendency among health authorities to classify most infant deaths in the region as cases of milk aspiration, without conducting a post-mortem examination,” says tribal leader Maruthi.

“Post-mortem examination was conducted only on two infants this year. The families are yet to get the post-mortem reports. But officials are categorical that half-a-dozen deaths happened due to milk aspiration. How do they reach such a conclusion,” asks Rajendra Prasad of tribal voluntary organisation Thambu.

“Look at the families in which the milk aspiration deaths happened. The parents already have one or two children who were reared by breastfeeding. Tribal mothers know how to breastfeed infants. It is against this background that we doubt the authenticity of the milk aspiration claims,” says Mr. Prasad.

Tribal organisations are now demanding the services of an expert committee of medical professionals to look into the continuing infant deaths, especially into the cases of milk aspiration. In 2017, only two cases of milk aspiration were reported from Attappady. The figure was 18 in 2012 when 110 infant mortality cases were reported from the region.

Other concerns

Congenital anomalies and low birth weight are the two other matters of concern in Attappady’s tribal children. “A dozen tribal infants of Attappady have died since January despite various measures adopted by the government. The authorities have not included on the list the infant of Manjula and Selvan of Vellamari tribal settlement who died at Government Medical College Hospital in Kozhikode in September. Malnutrition, birth defects, and poor maternal health are still stalking the 192 tribal hamlets of Attappady,” said tribal rights activist K.A. Ramu. Authorities claim that official initiatives targeting pregnant and lactating women and adolescent girls have reduced the infant death rate considerably.

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