A player being examined during the health camp at SAI centre in Morabadi, Ranchi, on Thursday. (Hardeep Singh)
Last Thursday, when Jharkhand was agog over polls in Ranchi and five other seats, a 17-year-old girl in the capital’s Harmu area, who had been slowly making a name for herself as a footballer, suddenly died of anaemia.
Midfielder and schoolgirl Asrita Lakra’s shocking death spurred NGO Empower Jharkhand and Sports Authority of India, Ranchi chapter, to hold a haemoglobin check-up camp for 250 players across sporting disciplines, around half of them girls, at Morabadi’s Birsa Munda Football Stadium, this Thursday.
In death, the teenager has proved to be a lifeline for other players from humble backgrounds who often ignore weakness, pain and niggling complaints.
“Asrita, who had been playing in district tournaments, did complain of dizziness, but never got herself checked. She and her humble parents had no clue she had anaemia. But, her sudden demise is so shocking that sportspersons are taking the health hazard seriously,” an official at Argora Football Academy said.
“It was really disturbing to know a promising footballer died of anaemia at age 17. The incident forced us to provide a platform where any player can come, get checked and take free medical advice and medicines. Initially, we planned a haemoglobin check-up for girls, but we extended our plan to include boys. We also roped in orthopaedic and dental check-ups,” said Empower Jharkhand president Aditya Vikram Jaiswal.
“Ranchi Khel Manch motivated players to come to us. We’re glad that so many players finally came to attend this medical camp,” Jaiswal said.
Ranchi civil surgeon Gopal Srivastava, present at the camp on Thursday, with around five more doctors, said the blood reports would be ready in a couple of days.
“But going by the looks of the players, specially the women, I won’t be surprised to find out that a majority of them have haemoglobin deficiency in the danger zone. Most people, including sportspersons, don’t know the government distributes free iron and folic tablets as part of anaemia control programme,” he said.
According to state health department data of 2013, around 65 per cent women in Jharkhand are anaemic.
It’s a silent killer in a state where lakhs of girls and women suffer from malnutrition caused by poverty, gender discrimination in families and ignorance.
In poor homes, parents reserve the bulk of the food for the boys. Girls get lesser portions.
P.D. Sinha, medical superintendent of Apollo hospitals in Ranchi, said roughly three among five women patients from rural areas of Jharkhand who visit them display symptoms of anaemia.
“Anything above 13.5-14g/dL is safe. Less than this, say for instance 10g/dL is not risky but needs care. But most women who come to us barely have 6-7g/dL haemoglobin. That’s a dangerous situation,” he said.
It’s all the more dangerous if the woman is an active sportsperson.
Aware of the menace, SAI centre in-charge S.K. Verma said they would hold such camps every four to six months.
“Many players in Jharkhand hail from remote areas and are extremely poor. Anaemia, low body weight and less growth rate compared to their age are rife,” he said.
Nitesh Mishra, an orthopaedic at the camp, said poor players ignored pain in their limbs and joints till it became unbearable. “Many sportspersons at the camp had problems in knee, ankle and shoulder. In some cases, players had prolonged pain but had never been to a doctor. Calcium deficiency is widespread. It seems they only rely on their mental toughness.”
Ormanjhi footballer Sanjiv Kujur said Asrita’s tragedy was something that changed his outlook towards his own health. “For the last one year, I felt pain in my knees. For the first time, I came to a doctor and got checked. I am taking home tablets for a month,” he said.