Poor Maternal Health Cause for Infant Deaths in Kerala's Tribal Belt

A central team that travelled to Addappady found lack of nutrition among pregnant mothers and adolescent girls to be the main cause for the high infant mortality rate.

Attappady, one of Kerala’s largest tribal settlements, has been in the news for the wrong reasons for some years now. On June 7, a two-day-old girl child died due to cardiac problems, PTI reported. This is the fourth infant death in the area in the last two months, and the eight this year.

However, the exact number of infant deaths this year in the region is disputed, with some media agencies reporting this to be the eight death since January 2017, while Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITP) figures say there have been at least 10 deaths.

The baby girl, born prematurely to Valli and Shivadas, who are from Kolapaddy, on June 6, was 1.3 kg at of birth and had some defects in her heart valve, health department sources told The Hindu.

Two of the other three infants who died in the last two months passed away soon after being delivered. One of them, born to Sharada and Durai from Melemully in Pudur Gram Panchayat, died at the Kottathara Tribal Specialty hospital, while the other died at Thrissur Medical College. The third baby had been born prematurely at a private hospital at Anakatti, in the seventh month of pregnancy.

“Malnutrition had been a major reason for infant deaths in Attappady. But this year, there is an increase in the number of children both with birth defects,” Dr. Prabhu Das, Nodal officer for Attappaddy told PTI.

An eight-member central team visited the area on May 20 to probe the cause of the infant deaths. Their study found malnutrition among pregnant women and adolescent girls were the main cause for the high infant mortality rate. It was also found that nutritious food was not being distributed by the anganwadis to pregnant mothers and children in the tribal belt for the last two years. Both central as well as state government schemes were not being implemented, reported The Hindu.

An ITDP official said, “Each kitchen requires milk, egg, pulses, millets, and quality rice to bridge nutrition deficiencies. But in practice, only rice and one variety of pulses reach most of the kitchens. Besides, anganwadi workers in charge of the community kitchens are now given additional responsibilities and are not able to concentrate on nutrition-related challenges.”

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