Agali (Palakkad): Despite having an infant mortality rate on a par with several developed nations, Kerala is yet to check the continuing deaths of babies in Attappadi's tribal hamlets.
The State government has pumped in Rs 131 crore through local bodies over eight years from 2013 to prevent infant deaths in Attappadi, but such a financial support, too, failed in avoiding 121 child deaths during the period, statistics revealed. Attappadi had reported 47 infant deaths in 2013 alone, prompting government intervention.
Kerala has been proud of restricting infant mortality below six per cent against the national average of 28.77 per cent. Even as it tom-toms its achievement in controlling infant mortality, it has been ignoring the child deaths in Attappadi, 'the sickest woman of the Western Ghats', as the local residents put it.
In the past five days alone, the region lost a mother and five children to diseases caused by malnutrition and other health issues. The Health Department has reported that the majority of Attappadi women were anaemic, and sickle cell anaemia is common in the region.
Sickle cell anaemia, one of a group of disorders known as sickle cell disease, is an inherited red blood cell disorder that prevents adequate distribution of oxygen throughout the body.
It has been alleged that the villagers, who were used to surviving on finger millets and little millets, were forced to change their traditional staple diet to grains distributed through ration outlets, which affected their natural immunity.
Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes K Radhakrishnan's statement the other day sums up the development the region has undergone over the past more than two decades:
"Attappadi hasn't changed since my visit here in 1996," the minister said. "Make them self-sufficient, they will take care of themselves," Radhkrishnan added, reflecting on the folly of providing food for the people "till the end of the world."
Incidentally, Rs 16 crore was allotted for the development of Attappadi in a year alone -- a sum that no one knows where it was spent. If a small part of the earmarked amount was spent for the benefit of the more than 32,000 people living in 194 hamlets, the infant deaths could have been avoided.
SC/ST commission registers case
The Kerala State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has registered a case based on news reports of infant deaths in Attappadi.
The commission has sought a report on the reasons for infant deaths within a week from the Palakkad district collector, district medical officer, district panchayat secretary and the Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP)'s officer in Agali.
The panel also directed the officials to recommend solutions to prevent such casualties.