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’Operation Karn’ to the succour of children

Thursday 8 July 2004, by MENON*Meena

DHODRA, Maharashtra, July 7. Two-year-old Sunil Mhauskar has been severely malnourished since a year. His mother, Hiroo, suffers from schizophrenia and every time Sunil is admitted to hospital, she runs away.

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Vivek Bendre
Hiroo and her malnourished son, Sunil, in Dhodra village in Melghat.

"We are making efforts but the child’s health does not improve," says Sunil’s grandmother, Bainu Chilate, who looks after him. For a week, the district administration has been giving Hiroo Rs. 20 daily to buy food for Sunil and to ensure that she stays home.

For children such as Sunil who are in grade four - the most severe on the malnutrition scale - the Zilla Parishad, Amravati, has launched an "innovative" programme Operation Karn with contributions from district officers.

According to the District Health Officer, Chandrashekhar Raut, the Government recognises the fact that many mothers leave their malnourished children at home and go for work. He says: "We pay the mother Rs. 20, which is usually her daily wage, for 100 days. About Rs. 62,000, which was collected from the officers, has been distributed to 102 families and more funds will be raised."

The local anganwadi sevika (health worker) adopts each of these children and pays special attention to them. The programme, launched in June, has already shown results, and within 15 days, 15 per cent of the children have gained 200-300 grams, says Dr. Raut. "The problem here is the mother does not know how to rear the child," he says.

Leela Bilavekar, anganwadi sevika in Dhodhra, Dharni taluka, says: "Sunil is fed four times a day. From the Rs. 20, I buy eggs or milk and the remaining cash is given to his family." However, the money is hardly enough to keep the family above starvation. Hiroo’s eldest, a 14-year-old boy, is already working with a farmer.

Operation Karn does not cover all severely malnourished children. In Bothra village, 30 km from Dharni, Ladki Kasdekar gave birth to her second child, a girl, a year ago, who is in grade four of malnutrition. Teenaged Ladki herself has malignant ascites (fluid collection in her abdominal cavity) which she cannot afford to get removed by operation. The family eats only jowari rotis and cannot afford vegetables or even pulses.

In Baspani village, Aarti Kasdekar does not go to school as she spends the day looking after her three siblings, the youngest of whom, one-and-a-half-year-old Naina, is underweight and acutely ill. Aarti’s mother, the sole breadwinner, cannot afford to take her to hospital as she is busy earning daily wages. Her father is mentally unbalanced and cannot work.

Government records in June show that there are 37,524 children below the age of six in Melghat region, of whom only 12,376 are normal weight-wise. The rest are in various grades of malnutrition, with about over a thousand in the severely malnourished categories. However, Ashish Satav, who runs a Tribal Health and Research Project in this region, says more than 50 per cent of the children are malnourished in the two blocks of Dharni and Chikhaldhara. He says at least 200 children have died since April, countering the Government’s claim that only 86 children had died from April to June. The Government considers only grade three and four cases as serious whereas all the grades must be given due consideration, he says.

However, district officials do not think the situation is alarming. The Amravati Collector, Ravindra Jadhav, says: "Last May, 2.98 per cent children were in grade 3 and 4 (severe malnutrition). This year it has reduced to 2.56 per cent. The number of child deaths is not an alarming figure. Since 97-98, there is a reduction of 29.89 per cent. At least the situation has not deteriorated. We are also sensitive to the problem."

Thousands of children died of malnutrition in the early ’90s in Melghat. Now, officials claim that the number of child deaths has come down by 50 per cent in the last 10 years in the district. Several Government schemes, including mobile medical units, have contributed to improvement in health services in the region, they say. The infant mortality rate has come down to 37/1000 live births in the last three years. This is lower than the State average of 48/1000 live births, adds Dr. Raut.

Meena Menon

See online : The Hindu


in The Hindu, Friday, July 08, 2004.

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