Now A for Anemia, H for Health in Bihar Schools

Ten year old Roopa is one of the brightest girls at the local government school in Cinawa, a backward village in Nalanda district. Last year, a fire accident left her face badly scarred. With her vision also affected, her dreams of studying further went up in smoke. Although her poor parents made efforts to get her treated, they were unable to afford reconstructive surgery.

Ray of Hope
But now there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for Roopa. With the launch of ‘Nayee Peedhi Swasthya Guarantee Yojana’ (New Generation Health Guarantee Program), this March, not just Roopa, but over 3.4 crore children up to 14 years of age and adolescent girls up to the age of 18 will be provided a health card to facilitate medical check-up and free treatment at government hospitals.

Serious medical complications will be referred to the country’s premier institutes with the government bearing the expenses.This includes specialized medical treatment in premier hospitals like All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh and Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGI) in Lucknow. Parents can also seek treatment at annual medical camps to be organized under this scheme. The state government has earmarked an annual budget of Rs 125 crore for this purpose.

Lagging Behind
Bihar is lagging behind in several development indicators. According to the 2011 Census, Bihar has registered a downward trend in the girl child ratio in the 0-6 year age group, dipping to 933 in 2011 from 942 in 2001. Bihar’s overall sex ratio has declined to 916 females per 1,000 males against 921 in 2001. Unequal equal health rights coupled with early marriage of girls has perpetuated inter-generational
anemia, under-nutrition and contributed to maternal and infant mortality.

New Strategy Against Child Marriage
The new health card scheme is aimed at addressing these issues by monitoring health indicators right from birth till the child turns 18. So not only would the card help in the drive against malnutrition, anemia and, childhood reproductive problems but also record whether girls were dropping out. According to Amarjit Sinha, principal health secretary, Bihar, the health cards would help to monitor the presence of girls in schools. The longer they stayed in schools, the greater the delay in their marriages. “A health card can help us monitor the next generation,” he said.

Digitalizing Data
All related data, including the mobile numbers of their families, have been compiled in the card and digitalized. The data for the health cards was compiled jointly by Human Resources and Social Welfare departments. Distribution of these cards to all children in the 70,000 state schools and 11,000 health sub-centers and additional public healthcare centers across the state will be completed soon.

Including Critical Age Groups
While some states already have health card schemes for school going children in the age group of 6-14 years, Bihar is the first state in the country to include those less than six years old. Just how critical this inclusion is can be gauged from the fact that 90,000 children die every year within the first month of their birth in Bihar. Furthermore, there are more than 12 lakh malnourished children in Bihar according to the 2001 census. Under the scheme, doctors and medical teams from government hospitals will reach out to the cardholders and test various parameters of their health, including malnutrition and ailments like congenital heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension and cleft lip. The team comprising one medical officer, one Ayush doctor, three auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs), a lab technician, nurse, OT assistant, dentist, ICDS staff and one teacher will ensure all children receive a thorough check-up.

Sustaining Healthcare Services
The huge number of people lining up at the Swasthya Chetna Yatra (Campaign to Raise People’s Awareness on Health) launched earlier this year to avail medical benefits, underlined the high demand for healthcare services. The health cards scheme is a good step in the direction of ensuring healthcare to another marginalized community, children and adolescent girls. By enabling parents to seek follow-up treatment for their children at primary health centers (PHCs), block hospitals or premier institutions outside the state, the ‘Nayee Peedhi Swasthya Guarantee Yojana’ will go a long way in improving the health of the next generation.

Swapna Majumdar-CNS