Six infants in the age group of 2 months to 5 months have died while six others are being treated for an unknown disease in tribal-dominated Malkangiri district in less than a month, officials said.
Malkangiri district chief medical officer Dr Ajay Baitharu said the children hailed from Tamanpalli village under Maoist-affected Kalimela block of Malkangiri district and had died between October 13 and November 8.
“All the children were acutely malnourished and suffered from low birth weight. They had fever and were also suffering from cold. The families did not take proper precaution in bringing them up. In some cases, the infants were left sleeping in the open verandah. Even though the diseases are yet to be identified, we suspect the deaths could be linked to malnutrition. Our doctors have taken blood samples from the children,” said Baitharu.
Six other infants are still being treated at a government hospital in Kalimela block.
The CDMO, however, ruled out Japanese Encephalitis or Acute Encephalitis Syndrome that resulted in the death of 103 children in the district three years ago. None of the children had showed any symptoms of JE or AES, he said.
Officials said a mobile medical health unit has been stationed at the village since the last 3 days for treatment of the malnourished children. However, they said what made things worse was the parents’ reluctance to take the children to hospital and instead seek the help of witchdoctors. “This has only aggravated the issue. The ASHA workers tried their best to bring the children to the hospital, but in many cases the parents were unwilling,” said a district official.
According to the 2014 Annual Health Survey report, Malkangiri had the highest percentage of undernourished children, highest percentage of wasted growth (very thin) among children, highest child marriages, lowest use of any family planning method and lowest immunization coverage in the state.
With a population of 80,000 under-five children, Malkangiri often witnesses under-nutrition related diseases like diarrhoea, malaria, pneumonia and other disorders.