Odisha district in throes of child malnutrition

Cause for concern:Besides poor nourishment, the children, who belong mostly to the Juanga tribe, suffer from bronchopneumonia and malaria.— Photo: Special Arrangement  

The Odisha government is struggling to provide health care in Nagada village and adjoining hamlets, perched on a hilltop in Jajpur district, where five children have died in the past 20 days. While the government says 15 children have died since January, the local Sarpanch puts the number at 17.

According to health care professionals treating tribals, mostly of the Juanga tribe, a majority of the children suffer from chronic malnutrition. After concerns were expressed about the condition of Juangas, Jajpur Collector Satya Kumar Mallick and Chief District Medical Officer Phanidra Panigrahi led a team on a field visit on Thursday. A free kitchen and health camp were announced.

Problems galore

“Five children have died in 20 days at Nagada. Two of them had bronchopneumonia. The medical reports on the others are not readily available. With bad roads, we are unable to reach the spot,” Dr. Panigrahi said.

The lack of drinking water makes matters worse. The population of the tribe numbers 419, including 127 children aged 0-5. Most children have symptoms of malnutrition.

Three children, one aged 20 days and the others three years, were recently admitted to a hospital run by Tata Steel at nearby Sukinda. A doctor said two children were suffering from malaria and were malnourished.

Although the doctors insisted that the children be kept in the hospital for a few more days, their parents took them back to their village where the situation was fast deteriorating with the onset of monsoon. One of the two children who died in the hospital had been suffering from severe malnutrition that worsened the infection, he said.

No immunity

Rabindra Mishra, a government doctor posted at a community health centre at Sukinda, said malnourished children from Nagada and other hamlets had no immunity against common diseases.

Renuka Dehury, sarpanch of the Chingudipal gram panchayat under whose jurisdiction Nagada falls, said: “Seventeen deaths have been reported from the village in the past five months. While the limbs of children looked like sticks, their stomachs were swollen.”

Rasmiprabha Khatua, a public health extension officer, blamed the situation on the tribal traditions. “They are deprived of minimum health care because of lack of roads to the village. They are not used to taking medicines. The district administration has sent several teams to the village to check the trend.”