Rekha* admitted in the Panna district hospital
Meet Rekha and her mother from Jaitupura village which is few kilometres from Panna, Madhya Pradesh. Rekha is 10 months old (yes, dont be surprised) and severely malnourished. Her mother is not in a good condition either; she is also underweight and weak. My first meet with Rekha and her mother was in the Panna district hospital where she was brought in by the Anganwadi worker of her village to the NRC (Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre). But looking at her condition, they decided to shift her to the children ward where she could get extra care and treatment. Rekha is this small baby with tiny head and thin body. It felt as if her skin is about to fall off from her body. She is moving her eyes all around and trying to see what is happening. A 10 month old child is able to sit or grab things, sometimes walk and even communicate. All Rekha could do is cry when she is hungry.
I was in the hospital with one of my team member doing a follow up for a patient when the doctor present there told us about Rekha and asked us to help her out as she needed blood transfusion and there was no other family member with them. The Anganwadi worker just came and admitted them in the hospital and went off. Rekha’s older brother was also there. He was around seven or eight years old with no clothes on his body; just a school uniform, half pants which was not even touching his knees. The winter is already setting in here and days are growing chilly. When we went to ask the mother about her daughter. she did manage responding or reacting to the questions we were asking. She seemed confused because she didn’t know us. There was nobody with her and she was not literate or knew anything about blood transfusion and the process and even if she was a match with her daughter she was not in the condition to give blood to her. It was as if her helplessness was seeping into us.
We decided to go to her village and inform her family and ask someone to come to the hospital. When we went to her house, nobody was there. The neighbour said that her father had gone to graze goats and there was no one else in the house. According to Rekha’s blood test report, she had 3.7 percent blood in her body which was shocking and we knew we had to do something so we returned back to the hospital and our project coordinator, Nikita D’cruz came front to donate blood to Rekha as she was a match. I was left wondering how painful it must be for that little soul and her mother to go through all of this.
When we went back the next day it was the same. She was alone no family member came to even see her once and the elder son was playing outside with same half pant on and had a torn t-shirt on. We checked her reports and her blood was now 9.4 percent which was a good recovery and we are now hoping that she will get well soon …
We are now doing daily followup and it’s been four days she is in hospital and still nobody is there with her. The natural reaction is anger towards the immediate family, especially the father. The question I am having in my mind somehow is how painful it must be for a father to not be there when he knows her daughter is in such bad condition. Or no? My idea of father and daughter’s love is severely challenged here and i am in my naivity and irritation thinking – has poverty killed the ability to feel and love in him? Her father takes goats to graze everyday. He is responsible for all the goats in the village and people pay him for that. Even if he miss one day he will not get the wage for that day. His family depends on him. The cost to travel from village to hospital is even higher than what he earns per day.
Sure, he must be wanting to meet his wife and children but how helpless he must be right now where he knows if he will go then may be his family will have to stay hungry for few days. Is he picking the alive over a girl child who he fears may not make it?
In the forest areas of Panna, with the highest maternal mortality rate in the country right now, can we really blame families for multiple child births and hoping that some will make it through? The situation and the circumstances make them helpless and put them in a situation where they have to make some tough decisions. Not tough decisions like should I choose commerce or science? Some really tough decisions where they have to choose between bread for family and life of a new born.
For this last quarter of my India Fellow journey into the heartland of India, i am working with project Koshika. It is an initiative by the alumni of the fellowship itself and is working in the forest villages of Panna Tiger Reserve on maternal and neonatal health. At our induction, 10 months ago in Udaipur, we spoke at length about empathy. Meeting Rekha makes me realize, how hard it will ever be for any of us to do that …
*Name changed to protect identity