PALGHAR, KNOWN to be one of the districts that is home to maximum number of malnourished children, has witnessed a steep drop in child deaths with government officials adopting children in their blocks to nurse them out of malnourishment, official records stated.
Last week, at a meeting of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare officials in Assam, the Maharashtra government presented a poster about the pilot project attempted in Palghar. In one year, 504 malnourished children have been adopted by various government officials in Palghar. “The Centre selected this pilot programme to display, among other programmes of different states, as a success story,” said Dr Pradeep Vyas, Principal Secretary (Health).
Started more than a year ago, official records indicated that the project has resulted in the number of children suffering from severe acute malnourishment slipping from 504 in 2017 to 278 in 2018 in September.
In every block, taluka health officer, block officer, child development project officer, auxiliary nurse midwife, multi-purpose workers and accredited social health activist (ASHA) have been allotted malnourished children to look after. “They pay regular visits and ensure the child’s diet improves. The concept is to make an official responsible for improving health of a child,” said Rajendra Patil, deputy CEO of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Palghar.
Data from the district shows that in the last two years, the number of deaths has come down due to various interventions. Between April and September 2016-17, 315 children aged less than six years had died. This figure dropped to 248 in 2017-18 and 189 in 2018-19. “With this pilot project, we could further reduce deaths due to malnourishment,” Patil said.
In July last year, medical officer Dr Sushma Malik in Tawa primary health centre (PHC) was informed that she had to look after two-and-half-year-old Sharad Kode, a severe acute malnourished (SAM) child living in a remote village. “When I first visited him, he had diarrhoea, cough and cold. He did not have appetite. Lose motions had reduced his weight,” she said.
Kode lived in a tribal hamlet of Sutarpada, 8 km from the Tawa PHC. Malik started visiting him every week. Eventually, she started buying eggs for the boy and delivered at his hut every week. “He also required iron and protein supplements. I started procuring it from PHC,” she said. Malik counselled his parents to stop giving him packaged chips packets. In three months, the boy’s weight increased by two kg. “He is healthy now, out of SAM,” she added.
Like Malik, ASHA worker Sunita Tandale adopted two SAM children in Dasrapada hamlet, north of Palghar. With no vehicle for transport, Tandale would walk to Sagar Bhoye (3) and Harshala Savra’s (4) huts. “I would ensure their mothers brought them daily to the anganwadi to eat. Their parents are labourers and could not afford to provide two meals a day.” Tandale feels she contributed to a social cause by lifting the children from severe to moderate acute malnourishment. “My efforts are still on,” she said.
The district has also restarted village child development centres where malnourished children are provided meals multiple times a day to improve their nutrition content. Data from the state women and child development department showed there are 2,711 such centres where 4,773 children have been admitted this year.
In Dahanu, block development officer B H Bharakshe said 200 to 300 children have been diagnosed as malnourished in his block. “We are seeing dedication in government officers to improve the weight of the children. They counsel parents about nutritious food like drumsticks and rice, advise less oil, and on how to prevent infections,” Bharakshe added.
In remote areas of Jawahar and Mokhada, where the malnutrition burden is highest in district, officials have started taking interest in improving sanitation, water supply and immunisation among children.
Health activist Brian Lobo, however, said that the tribal district suffers from issues of under-reporting when it comes to malnourished children. The district has 37.3 per cent members from the Scheduled Tribe in its over 15 lakh population, according to 2011 Census. “On ground, concrete change in improvement of malnourishment is still to be seen,” Lobo added.
In 2017, NGO Sathi had surveyed 1,659 children in Maharashtra and found incomplete records in 50.9 per cent cases. The state government then conducted its own survey in 2018 in rural and tribal pockets of Pune, Raigad, Nandurbar and Palghar. Preliminary findings suggested that under-reporting remains a rampant issue in these districts.