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Food security vital for tribal health: Study

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It was discovered that for want of food, tribals were selling off the mosquito nets given to them and exposing themselves to mosquitoes and malaria.

Visakhapatnam , Aug. 4

FOOD security is the most crucial factor in dealing with malaria and viral fevers in the agency (tribal) areas of Visakhapatnam and other districts and supply of at least 15-20 kg of rice per month per family during the four critical months (May, June, July and August) will be of great help to them, according to a study conducted by the Andhra University.

The study was undertaken recently by the school of economics and the department of social work of the Andhra University in the wake of the controversy raging over the number of tribals falling prey to malaria in the agency area of Visakhapatnam.

(The Government has admitted only seven malaria deaths in the area, while the opposition Telugu Desam has put the toll at over a thousand.

Several other political parties and NGOs have pointed to the gravity of the situation and expressed concern.)

Releasing the report, Dr L. Venugopala Reddy, Vice-chancellor, said the study had been undertaken as different political parties and the Government agencies were issuing contradictory statements.

"We have made an honest, earnest attempt to gauge the gravity of the problem and suggest remedial measures,'' he said.

According to Dr Reddy, the study covered 80 affected households in four mandals (Paderu, Hukumpeta, Dumbriguda and Araku).

The number of illness episodes taken into account was 140 and the sample households included both primitive tribal groups (23 per cent) and other tribal groups (77 per cent).

It was discovered by the researchers that for want of food, tribals were selling off the mosquito nets given to them and exposing themselves to mosquitoes and malaria.

Therefore, food security during the critical four months should be ensured.

The crop failure last year and the excessive rains this year contributed to the outbreak, according to the study.

There was also something cyclical about the outbreak and a similar one was noticed in 1999. "Many people in the area believe it is a five-year cycle,'' said the report.

``The research team came across eight deaths in nine villages during the past three months. The team probed into the causes and came to the conclusion that only one death could be attributed to malaria. The Integrated Tribal Development Agecy (ITDA), Paderu, has about 5 lakh population. Assuming a death rate of 10 per thousand, there are bound to be 5,000 natural deaths per annum and 1,250 deaths during May-July. The media is perhaps attributing most of the deaths to malaria and viral fevers,'' the report said.

According to the study, "it can be concluded that there is a 25 per cent rise in the incidence of malaria and viral fevers during the current year.''

It was found that the daily wages were meagre.

"Men are paid Rs 25 a day and women Rs 20 by private contractors. In works undertaken by the Government agencies and departments, men and women get Rs 65 a day,'' the report noted.

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