Dr. Shubhashish Sircar
In Jharkhand, about 40% of the people live below the poverty line, and about half the children younger than three are considered malnourished.
Hilly terrain hampers outreach efforts in some areas of the state.
Until recently, many families followed an old traditions that unwittingly threatened children’s lives. Believing the colostrum to be dirty and useless they would give their newborns goat’s warm milk dripped into their mouths from a cloth.
Old traditions and beliefs required new mothers to discard their colostrum, the first, nutrient-rich breast milk instead of giving it to their newborns. Colostrum is rich in antibodies and protects the baby against many infections and diseases. But, tradition differs and poses a challenge.
Other Challenges and Opportunities:
• Three quarters of young children and adolescent girls are anaemic, and many are deficient in vitamin A • One-third of Jharkhand’s children do not have full immunization against childhood diseases.
• The state’s literacy rate is 66%. Dropout rate among poor, female and tribal children at the elementary education level is high.
• Child marriage is still prevalent in tribal communities.
• A large number of households in rural Jharkhand don’t use toilets. The common village practice of open defecation in neighboring fields is responsible for much ill health and contaminated water supplies • Improved sources of drinking water are not available to 38% of the state’s population. Arsenic and other pollutants are present in many wells in some of the districts.
• About half the families in the state do not use adequately iodized salt, which is important in preventing iodine deficiency that can result in physical and mental retardation.
UNICEF in action
UNICEF is prioritizing reducing the high malnutrition and maternal as well as child mortality rates, and reaching out to the most marginalized families in Jharkhand to address these concerns.
The Dular strategy, which trains village women to counsel new mothers about breastfeeding and proper nutrition, is a successful approach that is already expected to prevent about one quarter of newborn deaths and save the lives of thousands of older babies and children.
The Dular initiative is of particular importance to tribal children who are most vulnerable to disease, malnutrition and education disparities, as prejudice, isolation and misunderstanding make it difficult for these families to access services.
Water and education initiatives are also the focus of UNICEF’s efforts in the state to help disadvantaged children attend school and ensure that all communities have access to safe drinking water.
UNICEF initiatives include:
• Child Survival is an issue of utmost importance to UNICEF.
The Dular programme was successfully initiated a decade ago to train thousands of volunteer village women, called LRP (local resource people), to teach new mothers about the benefits of proper breastfeeding. These volunteers also help local anganwadi or female childcare workers provide information on health and nutrition for older children and mothers.
Now, women in Dular villages are three times more likely than other women to exclusively breastfeed newborns and avoid traditional practices about colostrum.
The percentage of underweight children is much lower, too. The programme has been so successful that plans are afoot to expand the Dular network across Jharkhand. UNICEF and the Government of India also started a three-year project in 2009 to further extend it to 22 million children across India. Parents and health care workers are learning lifesaving childhood diarrhoea treatment methods with oral rehydration salts and zinc tablets.
• UNICEF supports efforts to distribute iron folic acid supplements to adolescent girls at all schools in the state in an attempt to control anaemia.
• The Weekly Iron Folic Supplementation (WIFS) Programme reaches 3.5 million adolescent girls (both in school and out of school) in all districts through schools and anganwadi centres.
• Vitamin A supplementation for children aged one to five is helping to prevent blindness and disease.
• Families and children are learning about proper hygiene and toilet building through schools, community and government initiatives supported by UNICEF.
• UNICEF supports campaigns to promote handwashing and provides kits to test water for arsenic and microbiological contamination.
Child Protection and Education .
• UNICEF is supporting a plan to eradicate child marriage and human trafficking. Its emphasis and concentration on expansion education opportunities in the state, particularly for poor, tribal and female students, is aimed at this.
(Ranchi based Dr. Sircar is a very uncommon physician whose love for the people has always inspired him to dare even the most inclement and rough terrains in the mission of healthcare. His Face Book friends have immensely benefitted from his postings on related to health and Nature.)