Deaths of 61 pregnant women, 877 new borns in Meghalaya during last 4 months exposes healthcare system

By Nirendra Dev

Sep 2, 2020

New Delhi: It certainly made headlines when it was reported that as many as 877 newborn children and 61 pregnant women died in the northeastern state of Meghalaya due to lack of essential medical services during the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

But as the proverbial saying goes – there is more to it than it meets the eyes.

Statistics lying cold in government files reveal that Meghalaya’s infant mortality and maternal mortality rates have always been high, so attributing the figures straight to Covid19 pandemic and alleged ‘negligence’ of the health case system would be perhaps erroneous.

More than 53-54 percent of pregnant women are anaemic in the state with the figure going up to nearly 60 percent for women between the age of 15-49 years in rural areas, says a report.

State Health Secretary, Sampath Kumar, says there were findings that women approach health centres with multiple pregnancies without adequate birth spacing, teenage pregnancies and with severe anaemia.

Health officials also say there is non- acceptance of birth spacing measures (use of contraceptives).People often say, the birth of a child is related to God’s gift and a mother’s womb is ‘not a graveyard’.

There are also practices of early marriage among various sections of people, which directly contribute to teenage pregnancy and most of the time dependency of people on ‘untrained birth attendants’.

There are also social issues despite the fact that Meghalaya – the home of three distinct tribal societies Khashis, Garos and Jaintias cherish matrilineal social life.However, there is a latent patriarchy. In fact, women continue to face discrimination and barriers in terms of making the right choices in so far as reproductive rights are concerned.

State officials have maintained that the tragic deaths of newborn babies and mothers this year should not be singularly attributed to the Coronavirus pandemic. A data comparison for April to July, 2019, was done against the same period this year, and it was found that the number of maternal and infant deaths is ‘comparatively the same’, says a state Health Department official.

The state government has decided to work on a multi-pronged strategy to approach this issue from different dimensions – clinical management, public health action, improved system and importantly the socio cultural dimension. Therefore, officials say the Health department is undertaking weekly Mother Child Health review meetings, rigorous sensitisation exercises with active participation from grassroot healthcare workers.

High-risk pregnant women are being identified to bring them to health centres even before their expected date of delivery.

Each of the 11 districts has government-run civil hospitals and there are 30 community health centres and 139 primary health centres besides several sub-centres.

Meghalaya has 12 big hospitals including six privately run in the state capital Shillong. The state’s population stands around three million,

But everyone is not buying the state authorities’ line. They say healthcare facilities range from poor to abysmal, especially in rural areas and ever since the NDA government came to power in the state in 2018, there is no innovative step to address the issues.

“There are infrastructural issues, absence of an adequate medical care team. Perhaps more than than 50 percent of pregnant mothers are anaemic, thus the deaths of 877 innocent newborn children are not just accidental fatalities but equivalent to mass murder,” says Shillong-based Congress leader Sanjay Das.

Quoting statistics to strengthen his argument, he said the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) for 1000 Live Births is one of the highest in Meghalaya as compared to other northeastern states.

The Niti Aayog Data shows in 2016, Meghalaya recorded 39 such fatalities compared to 34 at the all-India level, 11 in Manipur, 12 in Nagaland, 27 in Mizoram, 24 in Tripura and 36 in Arunachal Pradesh. Of course, in Assam it stood at 44 next to 47 in Madhya Pradesh.

Das also says that during the Congress rule several new initiatives were launched in 2012. The Chief Minister’s Social Assistance Scheme for the Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), Infirm and Widows (the nomenclature of which was later changed to include all single mothers) and the Chief Minister’s Wedding Assistance Scheme for Orphan did help the needy sections, he says.

“It is a sheer case of a paradoxical element in our society. In Meghalaya, we have a so-called matrilineal social system. But when it comes to infant mortality rates, we are among the top in the country. It shows how much in bad conditions expectant mothers are,” says housewife Amanda Mawlong.

Commissioner and Secretary, Health, Sampath Kumar said the instances of reporting on health issues has also increased in recent months “because of close monitoring at the state-level and the introduction of MOTHER app to track every delivery”.

Kumar also stated that during the pandemic and lockdown, the state kept the Institutional Delivery percentage to the same as before the lockdown.
This has been achieved while the state has continued to remain with the least number of COVID-19 infections per million population in the country.

—-India News Stream