(This is a news report from a friend of mine who works for Press Trust of India. Opinions and data expressed are his.)
Bandwan (WB), Nov 26 (PTI) The sound of conch shells during a baby's first rice ceremony held at Supadih village indicate celebrations in the hilly, predominantly tribal, poorest West Bengal district of Purilia that is blighted by Maoist insurgency. "Newborn deaths is common here and many women die during childbirth in this district that has poor roads, bad transport and prone to wild elephant and snake attack," says Gharani Bala Mahato, a housewife who lives in the village that borders Jharkhand.
The high rate of newborn and maternal mortality in districts like Purulia and Bankura, backs Unicef's latest report on child mortality in India. The report released this past week states 5,000 children under the age of five die in India everyday due to preventable causes. "Sixty out of 1000 newborns die in Purulia district every year due to malnourishment, underweight and lack of cleanliness in case of home deliveries. Several babies also die of pneumonia before attaining one month age," Dr Abinash Besra, Health Officer of BandwanBPHC told PTI.
"A total of 120 women died while giving birth to babies in the district. The main cause of death is eclampsia which involves a rise in pregnant woman's blood pressure, swelling in the feetand convulsions before, during or soon after child birth. Mostly underage pregnant woman suffer from it due to high rate of child marriage," he says. The newborn and maternal mortality rate is the highest in Purulia district, health officials say.
Poverty being high, babies are born underdeveloped and pregnant women suffer from anaemia too. "Early marriage and inadequate health care of women which adversely affects the survival of the children," says Dr. Besra. Another cause of newborn and maternal deaths are superstitions among villagers and tribals - particularly in Jhalda, Baghmundi and Bandwan blocks. "Mothers are provided with dry food like puffed rice, garlic and other less nutritious food with the misconception that else the mother will not recover fast.
This causes malnourishment in infants posing a risk to their lives," says Dr Besra who is also a local of the village. "Infants are bathed in pond water on the ninth day which causes infection on the belly. Tribals prick the arms, forehead, legs and belly using a the red-hot tip of a sickle. These practises causes infection and many newborns die of tetanus," he says.Housewives like Gharani Bala Mahato and Kajali Kisku of the jungle village say mothers are compelled to duck into pond water on the seventh day after childbirth which doctors say may cause vaginal infections. The narrow rocky undulating paths through jungles, makes it difficult for pregnant women in labour to reach the hospital here.
The number of hospitals and health centres are also very low in the region. Gharani Bala says very few people are willing to venture out at nights during winter fearing wild elephants. A lack of motorised cars and ambulances are other impediment to take a pregnant woman to hospital, she says. District administration and Unicef-supported local NGOs have formed Self-Help Groups in the villages to break the superstitions, keep an eye on the pregnant women and trained to maintain a chart of ante-natal check-ups and vaccinations from nursing staff visiting the villages.
Block Development Officer of Bandwan, Prasenjit Das said the groups were provided van-rickshaws to carry pregnant women to hospital and one more ambulance was bought this year. "Rooms were cleared in godowns meant to keep forest products to make space for labour rooms with kits for safe delivery. Village midwives were imparted rudimentary medical training to deliver babies and awareness campaigns were launched," says Das.
Dr Besra said 30 per cent of the children have been born without the assistance of a trained health specialist. Only two hospitals in the district with nearly 25.5 lakh population have caesarean sections and ante-natal check-ups are mostly neglected, doctors say. "The hospitals are being equipped with better instruments, more beds are being added in all the hospitals inthe district. To promote hospital delivery, each baby is provided with hypothermic kits to maintain cleanliness and Rupees 500 for the mother's well nourishment," he says. (For Press Trust of India, Amitava Das)