August 29, 2016

Did Dana Majhi's wife die of hunger, malnourishment?

Questions that linger about death of Dana Majhi's wife are whether this is another case of death due to malnutrition and hunger? Did the hospital authorities knowingly admitted her in the TB ward to show it as a death due to TB and to hide the real reasons that would expose bigger failures of the Odisha government

It was really disturbing to see visuals of Dana Majhi, a Tribal from Kalahandi district of Odisha, carrying his dead wife on his shoulders back home after he failed to get a mortuary van from the district headquarter hospital in Bhawanipatna.

This is obviously indicative of the cumulative failure of several government schemes and programmes meant for the welfare of poor people. As the hospital authorities washed their hands off all blames by claiming that the man never contacted anybody for a vehicle to transport the body, it was found after verification that Dana Majhi was not aware of the schemes launched by the government for his aid in such situations. So, if the hospital authorities were not at fault, then it was the district administration and the government in the state that grossly failed in creating awareness among the target mass on the welfare schemes and their possible benefits. There are other issues, of course, to put the blame on the hospital staff and the management.

It was because of the intervention of local TV journalist Ajit Singh, Kalahandi reporter of Odia TV news channel OTV, that Dana got a private ambulance in the midway. But what explains the failure of some of the flagship programmes of the Odisha government, rather more loudly, is the death of Dana's wife, Amana Dei, in the TB ward within just a few hours of getting admitted. Amana died around 1 am on August 24, 2016, while under treatment at the tuberculosis (TB) ward of the said hospital. 

What now looks to be a most important issue is that “the deceased was admitted in the TB ward without being diagnosed through proper pathological tests". "She only had chest pain when brought to the hospital,” a source close to the hospital administration said.

Another case of malnutrition death? 

The death of Amana, 42, is a reminder of Minji Bariha of Chabripali village in Bolangir, Odisha, who died in December 2009, of TB as per medical reports and the official version. However, several media reports and civil society members had then claimed that Minji’s death was due to acute hunger and malnutrition.

Not only Minji, her son Jhintu Bariha along with three others of the family died of hunger and malnutrition within four months, between September and December 2009. The administration, however, was in denial to accept these cases as deaths due to hunger and malnutrition insisting that the deaths were due to pneumonia, TB, cough and other reasons. 

Kalahandi district has about 1,000 registered TB patients at present and it’s a known fact that malnutrition and hunger lead to TB by weakening the immune system of the human body.
Now the question arises as to what really was her disease and, so, the reason of her death? Is this another case of death due to malnutrition and hunger? Did the hospital authorities knowingly admitted her in the TB ward to show it as a death due to TB and to hide the real reasons that would expose bigger failures of the government?

The malnutrition scenario

The region comprising undivided Kalahandi-Koraput-Bolangir districts, called the KBK region, is known to the world as the most backward regions of the country and home to poverty, malnutrition and hunger. Over 80 per cent of people living below the poverty line, over 60 per cent of its population including women and children are believed to be suffering from malnourishment.

Despite several government schemes to provide with nutritional supplements to the pregnant and lactating mothers and new-born babies, to children under ICDS programmes and mid-day meal scheme, rural Kalahandi has the infant mortality rate of 57 in a thousand, under five mortality rate of 78, neonatal death rate of 33 and maternal mortality rate of 245.

Poverty and malnutrition are acute in Melghara and nearby villages surrounded by bauxite reserves like Khandualmali, Keluamali and Kutrumali. “Hunger being the defining feature of the area, there would be more such cases of malnutrition-induced TB in the area as health services are not easily accessible for these people due to lack of communication facilities, which often leads to aggravation of diseases in these communities,” said Dillip Das, chief functionary of Antoday, a Bhawanipatna based non-profit.

“The hospital started by the administration under PPP (public private partnership) mode at Nakrundi, Melghara’s gram panchayat (GP) headquarter, runs without a doctor. A pharmacist visits the hospital occasionally – two/three days a week,” Das said.

Talnagi, another GP of the same Thuamaul Rampur block, saw at least 21 deaths, including deaths of six children below 10 years, in a month caused by malnutrition, diarrhoea and malaria. The district administration, however, confirms 15 deaths since May 2016, as per news reports. Despite the fact that a 22-day-old baby died due to low birth weight, the administration denies that it was due to malnutrition.

“It’s a more serious and pathetic case in comparision to Nagada of Jajpur district, that came in news for 19 malnutrition deaths in a period of three months. But Kalahandi as a whole and these remote villages in particular are not as fateful as villages close to Bhubaneswar to get proper media attention in order to create pressure on the government for quick action,” said Draupadi Majhi, Thuamul Rampur block chairperson.

A narrative of bigger failures

The death of Amana narrates the failures of the government in dealing with issues like malnutrition, in making available the health facilities to the tribal and poor people living in distant remote villages of the KBK as well as other regions, in creating communication facilities in the remote areas, and in saving lives of many suffering from malnutrition and TB. So, let's talk about Amana and her death due to malnutrition-induced TB, as we have played too much with the incident of Dana Majhi carrying on his shoulder her dead body.

This article first appeared on August 27, 2016, at the Narada News.

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