Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh: Hari and Damaiti of Dehade village in Madhya Pradesh’s Shivpuri district mourn the loss of their three-year-old daughter Prem Kumari. The couple belongs to the Sahariya tribe – a vulnerable tribal group of the state. Their daughter, like a majority of Sahariya children, was malnourished and had developed an infection.
Damaiti said, “She was my first born. She was three and could speak. She would address us as Ma and Baba and run around in this place.”
When Prem Kumari’s condition worsened, the couple took her to the nutrition rehabilitation centre or NRC at Pohri block, 23 kilometers from their village where she was admitted for only a day. She was referred to the NRC at the district headquarters at Shivpuri which is another 40 kilometers away.
Damaiti and her daughter had to make their own way since no ambulance was provided to them. Prem Kumari died soon after she reached Shivpuri.
On a recent visit to the 10-bedded NRC at Pohri block, NDTV found that only two children were admitted along with their mothers. This was seen despite the fact that a large number of children suffering from acute malnutrition were present in the nearby villages. The situation, however, was dramatically different a few months ago.
In September, when reports of children’s deaths due to malnutrition in the neighbouring district of Sheopur hit the headlines, the administration quickly swung into action. The impact was also felt in Shivpuri district. The Pohri NRC suddenly saw 68 children admitted overnight.
The District Collector and DM, Shivpuri, Om Prakash Shrivastava, admitted there is a need for the administration to be constantly pro-active with the Sahariya community. “We need to increase their awareness. I have noticed that they want to leave after a couple of days. Sometimes they are unwilling to go to the NRC,” he said.
However, the functioning of NRCs pose a number of challenges. NDTV found that Pohri NRC does not have a child specialist and pathologist and only 30 per cent of the doctors’ posts are filled in the state. It also found that crucial investigations were not done to diagnose underlying infections like HIV and TB of the children admitted to the centre.
Narmada Arya, nurse, said, “I found the lab locked. Where else do I go?” Kalpana Bhargava, feeding demonstrator, added, “The X ray machine is also not working.”
These signs of mismanagement indicate that the Pohri NRC is unable to provide quality and sensitive care to children like Prem Kumari.