THE SIMPLE and content people of various ethnic traditions of the north-east India have had many problems, but one persistent problem has been sheer neglect on health aspect by the policymakers.
In a tête-à-tête with the Hindustan Times, Assam Agriculture University (Jorhat) Head of the Department of Food and Nutrition, Prof Basanti Baroova, who has come here to participate at the ICMR symposium, spoke about conditions in north-east in general and Assam in particular.
Q. What is the major health problem in the North-east and what are the causes?
A. Iron-deficiency anaemia (IDA) is prevalent in most of the parts. The other two being hypertension and protein energy malnutrition. Major causes can be attributed to lack of proper sanitation, lack of access to health facilities, shortage of drinking water in spite of number of rivers and most important, not consuming balanced diet.
Q. What has been the traditional diet and what are the changes now?
A. People had simple food of rice, fish and green vegetable, that too boiled; no spices, no oil. But today, we find, junk food like chips and Maggie noodles has reached in most of the areas in the North-east too.
Q. What are the major community-related problems in Assam?
A. We have urban and rural Assamese people, then we have these tribal people and then there is a huge chunk of tea garden labourers. These are provided health facilities by the tea estates managements. They give them subsidised rice and wheat. But these labourers prepare local beer from rice. No sugar/jaggery and oil etc is given. This is a fairly organised sector, the tea garden managements can afford, they should provide balanced food to these labourers.
Q. What is the efficacy of other government schemes for children?
A. Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) is the best scheme, which can reach out to the last child in remote areas. But unfortunately, the poorly paid workers do not put in their best. So, even when the machinery is good, the system needs improvement. We need to involve people who have empathy for others.
Q. How do you see the health scenario in next 10 years?
A. We need to reach right people with right schemes at right time. Panchayat Raj can be useful as the head of the village and gram panchayat members wield considerable influence over the people and can be facilitators for ushering change in health scenario.