Guwahati, May 25: The botched vitamin A campaign that claimed the lives of 23 children in Assam a decade ago has returned to haunt Dispur after more than 300 schoolgirls fell ill on consuming folic acid tablets on Wednesday.
Health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told The Telegraph that the government would redesign the entire programme of distributing free folic acid tablets among girl students to prevent a repeat of Wednesday’s episode.
He said the programme had already been stopped for 10 days.
Several hundred girls in Sonitpur and Darrang districts fell ill on Wednesday after consuming the iron folic acid tablets distributed free in schools under the National Rural Health Mission.
The tablets are distributed among girl students every Wednesday primarily to prevent them from developing anaemia.
Sarma said though the students had fallen ill because they had taken the tablets on empty stomach, the government would redesign the entire programme to plug any loophole in its execution.
He said the government was planning to distribute non-cooked food like apples and other items to girls in schools before taking the tablets so that they do not consume the drug on an empty stomach owing to ignorance or poverty. The minister admitted that the scheme of administering vitamin A doses among children had to be stopped after the death of some children, as worried parents stayed away from the vaccination booths fearing for their wards’ well being. “The same thing should not happen with the folic acid distribution scheme. We will have a re-look at the aspect of sensitising teachers and students about how to take folic acid tablets. The media should help us in creating the right kind of awareness,” he said. The Unicef, which is involved in the project in creating awareness, is also worried about Wednesday’s incident.
Jeroo Master, chief of Unicef office, Assam, told this correspondent that though her organisation has done its best to sensitise teachers on creating awareness among girl students about the need to consume folic acid, it would check what the teachers had actually done.
All Assam Students’ Union has accused the health minister of trying to hide the truth about the poor quality of the tablets by giving a bizarre explanation about poor girls taking such drugs on empty stomach. The union took out a rally in Sonitpur district today in protest against the incident.
In yet another development, a delegation of AGP leaders, led by party president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, met Assam governor J.B. Patnaik today and sought an inquiry into the incident.
Folic acid deficiency leads to anaemia
National Female Health Survey III reveals 69 per cent of women in Assam aged between 15 and 50 years suffer from anaemia, one of the prime reasons for high maternal mortality rate in the state
Dispur says folic acid tablets, if taken on an empty stomach, cause side effects like vomiting, dizziness, loose motion, headache and stomach ache
How could all 300 girls have been on empty stomachs while consuming the tablets on Wednesday, asks Opposition and other organisations