One hundred and seventy-four children dead in 2010,133 in 2011,158 this year. In a region marked by gross poverty and hunger in north Chhattisgarh,those are the figures for just the Surguja district hospital,and for just the six months between April-September. Most of the children died of malnutrition and anaemia,most of them within the first month of their life.
Surguja collector R Prasanna concedes malnutrition is very high in the region. Most of these deaths were caused by malnutrition of the children and their mothers. No death is from communicable diseases. We have launched programmes to address the situation, he says.
And he is talking of just the Ambikapur hospital,which has records of such deaths annually. The deaths of many other children in remote villages of this hilly tribal region go unreported.
Surguja district hospital records accessed by The Indian Express show that the children who died this year were underweight and suffered from severe anaemia and related ailments. So did their mothers. Despite doctors calling some of these deaths seasonal occurring in summers or rains and largely due to water-borne diseases there have been no malaria or diarrhoea deaths recorded this year.
While the infant mortality rate has gone down from 76 per 1000 births in 2001 to 53 in 2011 overall in the state,the children brought to the Surguja hospital,say doctors,were scrawny,with bellies protruding and skin carrying folds of wrinkles telltale signs of malnutrition. Most of these deaths were due to anaemia or low weight, said Shamsad Duha,Surguja chief medical officer.
At the same time,the fact remains that since the Surguja district hospital is usually the last referral hospital for nearby places,the death count of children is naturally high here.
While the hospital has 50 beds in its child ward,admissions are as high as 850 in a month. Doctors discharge 20 children a day,but 25 new ones come in. Children and their parents squeeze in wherever they can,including outside the ward. We cant refuse them. Since there is no space inside,they bring mattresses and lay them outside,and we begin treatment, said a child specialist.
Sona Devi held her 15-month-old granddaughter cautiously along the aisles of the hospital. Glucose was being administered to her through IV. Parson rote rote behosh ho gayi. Tab se hosh hi nahi aa raha (She fainted the day before yesterday while crying. She hasnt gained consciousness since), said Sona. Bahuran Lakda was keeping vigil with his wife. His two-month-old son was severely anaemic and had not shown any improvement in the nine days they had been at the hospital.
To tackle the problem,collector Prasanna recently launched the Surguja Suposhan Abhiyan a community-based programme to improve nutrition and diet of children. Another scheme to provide special rations to pregnant women and lactating mothers is likely to be launched by December.
CMO Duha recently got a child audit done,recording in detail the causes of children dying at the hospital this year. He is also sending independent surveyors to record the condition of pregnant women in detail.
Surguja was a stronghold of Naxals until a few years ago,when then SP S R P Kalluri pushed back the rebels. Its still termed an LWE district but is largely peaceful. It also holds some of the richest coalfields in the country.
All in Surguja
Child deaths between April-September 2012. 89 were less than a month old. Of the remaining 69,over 25 were between the ages of one month and one year. Of the rest,the majority were less than 5 years old,only a few were over 10
Children deaths in the same period in 2011. 77 were less than a month old
2010 child deaths in same period. 93 were younger than one month