`Trib­als are more mal­nour­ished'

Down to Earth - - HEALTH - AB­HAY BANG

Tribal peo­ple must have con­trol over for­est re­sources of which I was a part, pub­lished in The Lancet this June says that 51.1 per cent of tribal chil­dren un­der five are stunted. The fig­ure for the non-tribal pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try is 43.1 per cent. There is no doubt that the tribal pop­u­la­tion is more mal­nour­ished.

Child mal­nu­tri­tion de­pends on so­cial-eco­nomic con­di­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, health of mothers and avail­abil­ity of health­care fa­cil­ity. The sci­en­tific ad­vance­ments made in the past cen­tury have not ben­e­fit­ted tribal peo­ple. Even the govern­ment schemes launched to fight mal­nu­tri­tion are in bad shape. Al­most `30,000 crore have been spent on the In­te­grated Child Devel­op­ment Ser­vices (ICDS), but with no ev­i­dent ben­e­fits. Chil­dren are most sus­cep­ti­ble to mal­nu­tri­tion in the first two years af­ter birth, but by the time ICDS comes into play, the child is al­ready mal­nour­ished. Food pro­vides min­er­als, vi­ta­mins and pro­tein nec­es­sary for a healthy life. For the tribal pop­u­la­tion, these come from forests. But they are in­creas­ingly be­ing de­nied en­try to forests. It is dif­fi­cult to say if forests can en­sure food se­cu­rity round the year, but deny­ing their ac­cess to forests cer­tainly does not help. What the govern­ment needs to do is take steps to im­prove lit­er­acy and eco­nomic con­di­tion of tribal peo­ple. Women's health needs spe­cial fo­cus be­cause it will ben­e­fit chil­dren too. Health­care fa­cil­i­ties in these ar­eas need a huge boost. Tribes must also be al­lowed con­trol over for­est re­sources.

Bang is the di­rec­tor of Gad­chi­rolibased non-profit SEARCH, and heads a com­mit­tee formed by the Union Min­istry of Health and Fam­ily Wel­fare on the health of tribal peo­ple

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