For the women in the Rafiq Nagar slum in Govandi, a session on health and nutrition conducted by neonatology specialist Dr Armida Fernandez on Saturday helped answer why so many children were losing their life in the slum.
Fernandez explained the importance of daily hygiene, nutritious diets for children and neonatal nutrition, a job that is supposed to be the responsibility of local civic community health workers and day-care center (aanganwadi) workers of the central government run Integrated Child Development Services scheme.
“The session solved our queries on treating children when they have diarrhoea and vomiting to ensure that they are appropriately hydrated and don’t become weak,” said Aasma Sheikh, whose one-year-old daughter Gulnaz is severely malnourished. “We have never had such a session from the aanganwadi workers before now.” The talk was organised by Movement for Peace and Justice, a people’s movement working with issues of poverty and nutrition after HT reported that three children had died because of malnutrition and related illnesses in the slum in December alone.
“These women, whose family income is often less than Rs 3,000, pay more for water than people in high rises, so it is difficult to even expect them to maintain high hygiene standards for their children,” said Fernandez, head of Dharavi- based non-profit Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action. “The doctor made us realise that we must get immediate medical attention for children when they are weak because they are vulnerable to fatal illnesses,” said Sabrina Khan, 22, a mother of two, who lives in the slum.
Fernandez interacted with the women and stressed on the need for neonatal supplements and care, because it is crucially determines an infant’s nutritional status. In the Rafiq Nagar slum that is mostly inhabited by rag pickers who work on the nearby dumping ground, social workers have recorded 18 deaths of children under the age of six because of malnutrition and related illnesses in the past eight months. There is no supply to running water or access to subsidised food grains through the public distribution system for these rag pickers and healthcare facilities are inaccessible or expensive.
“Its shocking that there is no health post or dispensary in this population of 600 families,” added Fernandez. “The BMC urgently needs to start a mobile dispensary for these children.”