Seventeen-year-old Shambhu Kumar Ram of Dadha VDC-87 of Saptari died on November 27. The District Public Health Office believes that Ram was suffering from severe malnutrition. The family members said Ram was malnourished since childhood but his condition had worsened since the last four years.
RAJBIRAJ, Dec 26: Shambhu Kumar Ram, 17, died on November 27. His family says that he died of malnutrition and lack of treatment. The poor family is from Dadha VDC - 7 of Saptari district.
“It is the fate of poor people. We could not feed him enough and also could not afford good health treatment,” Shambhu’s father Dev Narayan Ram, 55, said. “Even after selling all we had we could not save our son’s life,” he lamented.
The family had 16 dhur of land (less than a katta) in the name of property. They sold 12 dhur for Shambhu’s treatment after his health worsened four years ago.
“Four years ago, he was working in a landlord’s field when he suddenly fell down on his knees. From that day, his health never recovered,” the father said. “Even after selling 12 dhur of land, we could not afford good treatment.”
Shambhu was very lean and thin when he was born. His physique never got robust. Locals are not surprised with his death as they feel that he was always ‘too weak’ to continue. Similar is the physique of Ram Pukar Khanga from the same village. The 25-year-old is very skinny and neighbors now fear for his life.
“We feel that he too will die soon. He looks like Shambhu, who had died of nothing else but malnutrition,” notes Dev Kumar Khanga, Shambhu and Ram Pukar’s neighbor.
Local’s concern about Ram Pukar’s health and their fears deeply disturb his mother Likhiya Devi, 55. Alarmed by the situation, Likhiya Devi has been making every effort to gather support for her son.
Ram Pukar Khang (25) with his parents in front of his home in Dadha VDC - 7, Saptari. Khang has been suffering from malnutrition since his childhood. ( Jitendra Kumar Jha/Republica)
“The only property we have is this small hut. If we sell it, we will come on the street. I have visited many places and begged for help with many people. But so far, nobody has been so generous,” she said.
At the Gajendra Narayan Singh Sagarmatha Zonal Hospital of Rajbiraj, a 13-month-old girl from Kochabakhari VDC - 5 of Saptari has been admitted in the Nutrition Rehabilitation Ward. The child is suffering from critical malnutrition. According to Rahmi Jha, chief of the ward, several social organizations have been financially supporting her treatment. “She was admitted here as she was suffering from malnutrition. She would have met the same fate as that of Shambu, had she been not brought here on time and had people not financed her treatment,” Jha said adding that Shambu lost life because of malnutrition. He informed that four other children are presently receiving treatment for malnutrition at the ward.
These are just representative cases. District Public Health Office (DPHO) claims that many people are suffering from malnutrition in the district. According to its latest data 21 percent of children in the district are suffering from malnutrition. 62,150 children aged 6 month to 5 years are suffering from malnourishment. Of these 1834 children are in critical phase of malnutrition, the report states.
Bhagwat Yadav, focal person of the nutrition program at the DPHO, said that the reason behind such alarming situation is because of the inability of the poor to afford minimum level of nutrition in their meals. “Many residents in the district are not self reliant in food. These poor people cannot afford the needed amount of food and that affects their health,” he said.
Budget for nutrition program freezes
It is not that the government has not allocated budget for nutrition and poverty alleviation in the district. It does. But most of the time it either freezes or is misused. Because of such reasons, related programs have failed to bring positive changes in the lives of the targeted groups, claimed Badri Narayan Jha, a local leader. He opined that lack of management of resources has been the cause of gradual decline in the Human Development Index of Saptari and other adjoining districts.
“We get budget under various headings. We do have other resources as well, but these are not managed properly. Either the budget is misused or not spent at all,” said Jha. “Millions of rupees are allocated for nutrition and poverty alleviation related programs every year. But due to rampant misuse and mismanagement, poverty and malnutrition remains rampant in the district,” he added.
Sunaula Hazar Din, an UNICEF and government run nutrition program that focuses on the health of newly born infants and mothers, is being implemented in many VDCs of the district, including Dadha, for the last two years. The district’s program unit has not been able to spend the allocated budget though children are dying from malnutrition.
“During the last two years a total of Rs 111.97 million was released for this program. But only Rs 80.5 million was spent. Rest of the amount was returned,” Nabaraj Khadka, information officer at the District Development Committee, informed.