Hospital of undernourished children
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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.