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10 February 2009
Bhopal, India

The main reasons for the deaths are poorly–equipped government health centres and failure of its schemes to reach a majority of the impoverished
Malnutrition has killed over 50 children in Madhya Pradesh in less than six months, say non governmental organisations (NGOs). The government says it has no information about the deaths.

The main reasons ascribed to the deaths are poorly–equipped government health centres and failure of government schemes to reach a majority of the impoverished, say the NGOs after surveys in five districts.

An NGO, Spandan, carried out a survey with support from Action Aid (India) in Burhanpur, Khandwa, Khargone and Hoshangabad districts and found that 22 children had died due to undernourishment in six months, reports IANS.

Similarly, the Madhya Pradesh Right to Food campaign and Adiwasi Adhikar Manch reported 28 deaths in Satna district alone between October 2008 and January 2009.

Twelve deaths were reported from Burhanpur district, between June and November 2008.

“Six children died of malnutrition in five villages of Khandwa between October and December 2008, one child died in a village of Khargone in October while three children died in two villages of Hoshangabad,” the Spandan survey said.

Spandan claimed that 30 per cent of the 216 children surveyed in Burhanpur, 23 per cent of 116 children in Khandwa and 30 per cent of 177 children in Khargone were severely malnourished.

It said that in Burhanpur 58.3 per cent children do not attend anganwadis (women and chilcare centres), 7.5 per cent families are landless, only 30.7 per cent got employment under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and 25 per cent families do not have ration cards.

“This is the tip of the iceberg since these figures pertain to death of children in five districts. Just imagine the gravity of undernourishment considering there are 50 districts in the state,” said Sachin Jain of the Right to Food Campaign.

Women and Child Welfare Department Commissioner Kalpana Shrivastava expressed ignorance about the malnutrition deaths. She said that the state could only provide supplementary nutrition.

Shrivastava said, “The main problem is that whatever the state provides can only be supplementary nutrition. It is hard to tackle malnutrition if hunger is a chronic problem.”

According to the National Health Survey data, the number of malnourished children in the 0–5 years age group is 33,000, which is about 60 per cent of the total child population in Madhya Pradesh.

The state has with the assistance of the Unicef and the World Food Programme unveiled schemes like the ‘Bal Shakti Yojana’, ‘Shaktimaan’ and ‘Bal Sanjeevani Abhiyan’ to treat severely malnourished children.

“But one can make out the level of nourishment provided to children from the state of anganwadis. They lack basic facilities like seating arrangement, drinking water, separate toilets or space to cook nutritious food,” Jain said.

“The percentage of underweight children in Madhya Pradesh has increased from 54 in 1998–99 to 60.3 at present and the percentage of wasted (extremely malnourished) children has according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS–3) gone up from 20 to 33 despite Unicef involvement,” an official of the Women and Child Welfare Department said.

According to the Comptroller Auditor General of India, government schemes do not reach 52–62 per cent of children in the state.

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