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May 24, 2013 at 09:13am IST

Kerala: Poor healthcare leading to infant deaths, govt admits to lapse

Attapadi: 22 infant deaths in four months due to poor nutrition and inadequate healthcare has left the tribal belt of Attapadi in Kerala devastated. The tribal belt of Attapadi in Kerala has never had it so bad.

"I was only eight months pregnant. The delivery was unexpected and at night we did not have a vehicle to go to the hospital too," said Selvi, who just her twin children at birth. Ponnamma, who also lost her child, said the authorities fail to provide healthcare to pregnant women.

"The government keeps saying that they will provide ragi and other nutrients through health centres. But till date we have not got anything. No doctor has ever turned up at our houses to check pregnant women," said Ponnamma.

"In a place like Attapadi, which is as large as the district of Alappuzha, you don't have a single gynaecologist. It clearly shows the callousness of the government towards tribals," said Ramu, an activist.

Six year old Suchithra too died recently, leaving her family shattered. As the tribal settlement is gripped with fear over these deaths, doctors say the basics have gone horribly wrong.

"We are trying to feed the tribals instant food nutrients rather than the natural ones they are used to. Many of them even reject the food which finally leaves them malnutritioned," said Dr Sreejith of Attapadi Tribal Speciality Hospital.

At the local Anganwadi for toddlers, the facilities are dismal. The only food given is rice porridge and green gram served in the most unhygienic conditions. The state government admits a collective failure and has announced a fresh rehabilitation package.

"There is a failure of system there. We accept it," said MK Munner, Minister for Social Welfare. While doctors have been offered incentives to come and work here, many remain skeptical.

"What is the guarantee that doctors will stay back in Attapadi after this money is paid? What we need are people who can genuinely work for welfare of the tribals. Not some quick fix solution," said Kaali, an activist.

Every new package brings in a new ray of hope in Attapadi. But unlike the previous times, if it has to succeed this time round, direct involvement of the tribals is most important.

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