Dharmapuri: The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the term ‘low birth weight’ as birth weight less than 2500 gms. Dharmapuri district has a higher level of low birth weight babies than that of the state.
A lot of factors are responsible for the high rate of low birth weight among newborns in Dharmapuri. Poverty combined with illiteracy has led to poor consumption of iron-rich food, worm infestation and flourosis among adolescent girls and women. The major source of drinking water is ground water, which is infested with large quantities of fluoride, which has many serious repercussions on the human health.
“High prevalence of low birth weight increases the Infant Mortality Ratio (IMR) significantly. It is the single most important factor that determines the chances of child survival. These children have a high risk of developing malnutrition, recurrent infections and neuro-developmental handicaps,” says Dr Raja, Head of the Neo-Natal Department at the Dharmapuri Government General Hospital.
This problem, combined with the high rate of female infanticide reflects on the poor standard of living for the infants of Dharmapuri.
To combat the rampant female infanticide in the district, a cradle baby centre was established in April 2003 under the 1992 Cradle Baby Scheme of Tamil Nadu. This aim of this scheme was to deter unwed mothers and couples who did not want their girl-children from killing their infants. It permits parents to give unwanted baby girls anonymously to the state, saving them from possible death in a region where daughters are seen as a burden and where their murder is a common reality.
“We have so far saved the lives of 1,068 newborn children of whom 1,007 are girls. Cradles are placed at government hospitals and at social welfare centres for mothers to put their unwanted babies. Hospital staff monitors the cradles and care for the abandoned babies. The centre subsequently hands the babies over to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which then identify parents willing to adopt them,” says Dr Raja.
Government officials and NGOs also play an active role in counselling parents to prevent foeticide. Often, they succeed in talking parents into taking their children back.
Tamil Nadu government, in association with Unicef and National Rural Health Mission have come up with a neo-natal ambulance, which is solely dedicated to handle cases pertaining to kids who are 0-28 days old.
The Communist Party had an entirely different view on the above mentioned schemes though. “The Cradle baby scheme is an eye-wash. It is being misused by the officials to earn money by ‘selling’ kids to foreigners. Poverty is the main cause behind the high rates of female infanticide and infant mortality ratio and it needs to be addressed at the root cause,” says Nagarajan , Secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Plenty of schemes are in place to combat the problem of infant mortality. But, a sex ratio of 869 and an Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) of 36 indicates a faulty implementation.