MUMBAI: In a first, an expert committee jointly appointed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and Ministry of Tribal Affairs will exclusively focus on pan India tribal health and bring about consolidated guidelines which will be framed into a bill to be presented in the parliament.
The committee comprising over 25 experts from across the country, was formed over a year ago, after the central government realised there was a huge gap in addressing tribal health care, Dr Chander Shekhar, a member of the committee said. At a session on ‘tribal people’s heath’ at the 102nd Indian Science Congress, Monday, the disparity between health system available to non-scheduled tribes and schedules tribes were discussed.
Shekhar, professor at the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) , told the Indian Express, “Till now we have no dedicated policies on tribal health-care. In the national health policies, tribals get very little mention. This recommendation by the committee will now help in better disease management. The final document is almost ready.”
Amongst the top recommendations, the committee has suggested improved mechanism for controlling malaria, malnutrition, maternal mortality, infant and neonatal mortality, sickle cell disease and even snake bites. The panelists at the session admitted that scheduled tribes “have least access to health care and their health problems are least researched”.
According to 2011 census, 151 districts in India have scheduled tribes. According to the paper presented by Shekhar, less than 20 per cent scheduled tribes in India have access to sanitation vis a vis 44 in non-scheduled tribes.
“A 2012 Government of India report claimed that 2,700 medical specialists are required to serve ST population in India,” Shekhar said.
Another paper presented by Dr Neeru Singh, director of National Institute of Research in Tribal Health (NIRTH), showed that the huge Malaria burden (60 per cent) was shared by just five state– Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
“Of the 176 people interviewed in MP, 70 per cent claimed that due to long distances, they could not access health centers. The distance is too long to be covered and on several occasions tribals avoid hospital visits.”
In another paper presented by Dr Abhay Bang, director of NGO Search in Gadchiroli, a study showed that one health sub-center covered 15 villages which meant an ailing tribal had to walk 20 kilometers approximately to access medical care.
“Though Indian constitution promised healthcare to tribals, the government is far from fulfilling it. Rs 5,000 crore was allocated as tribal budget in Maharashtra, but how much of it has been used?” Bang asked.
He added that the national health policies are catering to the urban population and a separate set of guidelines for tribals is the need of the hour. Bang is currently chairing the expert committee on tribal health.
Dr A Laxmaiah, scientist and member of Indian Council of Medical Research, Hyderabad, also presented a paper on nutritional problems in tribal population. “Apart from malnutrition which is rampant, incidence of non-communicable diseases is gradually increasing in ST population. Hypertension is very high, we found incidence
of one in four. And one in five in ST population has obesity,” Laxmaiah said.
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