MITHI      -        The district health officer (DHO) of Tharparkar Dr Irshad Ahmed Memon has identified unchecked child marriages as a primary factor behind the unabated deaths of infants in the Thar region.

Dr Memon, in an annual report released to the local journalists here on Sunday, complained of distorted reporting of health indicators of Tharparkar by the media.

“It is made clear for general public that during year 2019, the district has shown significant improvement in healthcare delivery system as well as in the basic parameters. The infant mortality rate (IMR) in Tharparkar is far less than other arid regions of Pakistan. Preconceived notion of deaths of children attributed to malnutrition alone is strongly contradicted on the basis of ground realities and facts evolved and collected at DHO’s office during the year,” says the report.

It is also claimed in the report that the Thar region is out of drought condition after the required amount of rainfall received during the monsoon season this year, adding that there are other social subjects to look into rather than the food insecurity or malnutrition.

“With the strengthening of healthcare services, government hospital visits and indoor admissions of patients of all age groups remained 25 percent and 9 percent in 2019, respectively; higher than they were reported in 2018.

The report further reads that a total of 193,779 children, under five years of age, were brought to the OPDs during 2019. “Indoor admissions of people of different age groups witnessed a surge of 15 percent. A negative impact of minus 4 percent was also noted in referral to tertiary care health facilities,” the report adds.

The treatment rate remained constant for both years at 89 percent.

“Out of total 832 children, who died in six facilities across the desert district, 111 were brought from other districts while 721 were from Tharparkar district,” it adds.

The report further says that 47 percent of all the hospital reported deaths were due to respiratory distress and severe infection as a consequence of preterm low birth weight and home based deliveries.

“Tharparkar is the region where centuries-old tradition of child marriage and aversion to birth spacing or controlling is still very much alive,” the report says.

“Contrary to common belief, arising out of preconceived media reports, less than 2 percent of deaths of children under 5 years of age in 2019 occurred due to malnutrition-related conditions and with more or less of the same ratio for previous years,” the report reads.

Duly realising the needs, the Health Department with all the partners has evolved multi-dimensional approaches towards the resolution of infant mortality issue.

“Around six months before the drought, post-drought response was developed. A desert district, having the population of 1.7 million people, spread over 20,000 square kilometres, was firstly covered with outreach services by mobile medical teams/units under generous support of WHO and Islamic Development Bank through IHH,” the report adds.

It further says that static health provisions received strengthening inputs from WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, USAID, WFP and many others.

All under the umbrella of Sindh health department, nutrition, maternity services, EPI, birth spacing, newborn care, capacity building on infection prevention and control, health education, sensitization to gender-based violence and mental health issues were also effectively addressed.

The DHO, in his report, which was also sent to the high-ups of the Sindh government, says that in order to provide skilled birthing station facility, a total of 55 mother and child health centres (MCHCs) are being planned in various parts of the Thar region.

It (the report) says that the UNICEF has extended support for 29 of them. Six have already started working in most vulnerable parts of the district.

It further says that four thousand dedicated workers of the health department were busy round the clock, along with partner organisations, to provide the best healthcare facilities to over 1.7 million people in the desert district.

The report claims that members of the committee, formed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to assess the situation on the ground, have also appreciated their efforts and called Thar as the model district like some other districts of the country.