List of ills

There are many reasons to welcome the first report on the health of tribal people in India, although it has to be asked why it should be the first. A comprehensive study takes time: although the United Progressive Alliance government had commissioned it in 2013, the report, Tribal health in India: Bridging the Gap and a Roadmap for the Future, was submitted to the Union health ministry just last month. Of course, it can be argued that treating scheduled tribes as a distinct segment of the population when general issues such as health is concerned violates the principle of equality. Yet it is well known that many tribes, or many of their members, follow certain traditional practices and even traditional lifestyles, and the spaces they inhabit are often far removed from the municipal mainstream. Many tribes are nomadic. 

  • Published 7.09.18
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There are many reasons to welcome the first report on the health of tribal people in India, although it has to be asked why it should be the first. A comprehensive study takes time: although the United Progressive Alliance government had commissioned it in 2013, the report, Tribal health in India: Bridging the Gap and a Roadmap for the Future, was submitted to the Union health ministry just last month. Of course, it can be argued that treating scheduled tribes as a distinct segment of the population when general issues such as health is concerned violates the principle of equality. Yet it is well known that many tribes, or many of their members, follow certain traditional practices and even traditional lifestyles, and the spaces they inhabit are often far removed from the municipal mainstream. Many tribes are nomadic. Since these factors and their implications affect health, knowledge about health and access to care, a detailed understanding of their situations - all tribes cannot have the same problems - had long been necessary. Scrutiny in isolation threw up some deeply uncomfortable facts. Electricity is used by 52 per cent of ST households only, and clean cooking fuel by one-third. Amid the campaign against open defecation that includes shaming women and beating up men, more than 90 per cent of the tribal people in Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Odisha 'go' in the fields, and 77.3 per cent of their households have no drainage.

It is not surprising that the report has identified 10 main health issues that must be addressed immediately. Topping the list are malaria control, and reducing malnutrition and child mortality, together with care for women's health, dealing with animal bites and sickle cell disease. Mental health care and de-addiction are items that indicate the care with which the study has been conducted. The report emphasizes health literacy and recommends practical and financial measures to create a proper health infrastructure with increased access for tribal people. It is no use celebrating the fact that the ST sex ratio is far better than the Indian average. Not only are other aspects bleak, but also the child sex ratio has worsened noticeably from 2001 to 2011. The implications are obvious and ominous. Are tribes being prompted to use technology for one sinister purpose alone?

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