4800 kids died in Odisha’s Maoist stronghold Malkangiri in 5 years, experts blame malnutrition
More than 4800 children under the age of five years died in Maoist stronghold Malkangiri district between April 2014 and September 2019, according to government documents obtained by an activist under the Right to Information.
The district has a population of 641,385 (2014 census conducted by health department) of which more than 80,000 are children under the age of five.
While a little more than 100 children in the district died due to acute encephalitis syndrome and Japanese Encephalitis between September and December 2016, the RTI documents revealed that in other years too, the mortality rates have been quite high. While the IMR (mortality of kids below 1 year age per 1000 live birth) for Odisha is 41, for Malkangiri it is 50, far higher than India’s IMR of 32.
RTI activist Pradip Pradhan who obtained the documents say the casualties point towards malnutrition.
“This indicates that many of these children are dying from under-nutrition related diseases like diarrhoea, malaria, pneumonia and alimentary disorders endemic to Malkangiri,” said Pradhan, who got the documents from the state government.
The documents revealed that the deaths spiked in 2016-17 when a total of 1074 casualties of children under the age of five in the district. In 2016-17, the district reported more than 100 JE/AES deaths among children. In 2015-16, the casualty figure was marginally less at 993.
According to the documents, the government spent Rs 1.3 crore between 2014-15 and September 2019 on reducing infant mortality and another Rs 1.26 crore on running Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres, where institutional care is provided to children with acute malnutrition for children of Malkangiri.
“This shows huge allocation of funds by the State government has not yielded the desired results and more intervention is required to reduce infant mortality,” said Pradhan.
National Health Mission director Shalini Pandit, however, disagreed with the contention of malnutrition saying one needs to analyse the figures. “Causes of death are many and vary across age groups. Malnutrition is not a direct cause of death,” said Pandit.
However, public health experts said that malnutrition was a major reason in death of large number of children in a backward district like Malkangiri. “Malnutrition is the elephant in the room. It is the primary reason behind the weakening of the immunity system of the kids that led to the death of a significantly high level of children in the district. Lack of a reliable healthcare system is also another cause,” said Dr Mira Shiva, steering committee member of People’s Health Movement.
Experts pointed out to the National Family Health Survey-4 which revealed that the total number of children under the age five years in Odisha suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition increased from 5.2 per cent to 6.4 per cent in the last 10 years.
Pandit said child mortality was reducing in Odisha. “The Malkangiri district mortality figures show a reducing trend and conform to the State average as per Sample Registration System. The under-5 mortality of Odisha has declined from 90.6 in 2005-06 to 47 in 2017 which is a higher rate of decline in mortalities than the national average. We are closing the gap.”
In September this year, world’s leading medical journal Lancet in its survey of child and maternal malnutrition in India between 1990 and 2017 said malnutrition was the predominant risk factor for death in children younger than 5 years of age in every state of India accounting for 68•2% of the total under-5 deaths.
As per 2014 Annual Health Survey report, 7 out of every 10 children happened to be underweight in Malkangiri. The district also ranked third in the country among 100 districts having the highest prevalence of malnutrition among children under the age of five.