Sunday, October 19, 2014

Immuno-compromised by Malnutrition

One of my favorite quotes is that by William Osler about the usage of medicine.

Unfortunately, almost all of us believe that medicines are the elixir of life. And when we take medicines, we want quick relief. Almost all over the country, quacks and non-qualified practioners have thrived on this and one of the major challenges in the healthcare scenario of the country is the unbridled use of medicines especially antibiotics and steroids. Of course, the pharmaceutical industry all the more promotes such usage. 

And as doctors we fail to understand the inherent nature of the body to heal itself, which is very evident by the way many of us prescribe medicines.

This becomes a major issue in poor and marginalized communities of the world as it is quite a fashionable thing to resort to medicines and injections and get well. A very dangerous trend when we look at the fact that issues of sanitation and nutrition are hardly given any serious thought.

I personally believe that in India, malnutrition is the most serious form of immune-compromised state. As medical students, we were trained to think of only HIV patients and patients on immune-suppressive medicines to be immunosuppressed. I hope to see a change in the attitude that many of our medical colleges have towards malnutrition. We don’t see many HIV patients or patients on immunosuppressive medicine, but we see so many malnourished.

In Barwadih, the population of which comprises mainly on permanent residents of the Kherwar tribe and a migrant population of people from Bihar and Munda tribals from the Ranchi plateau, we are stunned by the amount of malnutrition we see. We did a rough survey of children who come to us and it was quite alarming to find that almost 70-80% of under-fives who come to us are at least moderately malnourished. I’m sure the situation would be worse if we do a community based survey.

And I dream to do a community based survey to highlight the gravity of the problem in hard-to-reach areas. I’m sure that there are going to many determinants of this health issue which could be different from other regions.

The challenge is to find long term solutions especially in a situation where more than half of the nation’s under fives are malnourished. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

And Primitive Behavior . . .

The second story is that of CC, a 2 month old boy. Similar to BB, CC also was brought in a very serious condition. The baby was small for his age and he was in full blown sepsis. CC was born with a birth weight of 2.3 kilograms and now, after 2 months, he weighed 2.4 kilograms.

We all tried our best to refer CC to a higher centre. CC’s parents were dirt poor. They told that they had some problems at home and therefore it was totally out of question to take him elsewhere.

With the customary high risk consent, we started off treatment. There was no respite for the first 2 days. The baby was listless and was not at all feeding. Both these days we tried our best to ensure that he is taken to a specialist centre.

On the evening of the 2nd day of admission, his condition looked so bad that the local parish priest went to the parent’s village to convince the village elders to take the baby to a higher centre. He was surprised to find a panchayat in progress with the baby’s father sitting in the centre.

Later, we found out that the panchayat had met following a complaint against the baby’s parents from the grandmother of the baby that she was thrown out of the house and that they were not taking care of her. We also found out that CC’s mother was the second wife and the first wife was also living in the same house. And it was not uncommon for either of the wives to mistreat the other as well as the other’s children.

And to make matters more complicated, there was hardly any hour of the day when the father did not have alcohol running in his veins. In fact, after the panchayat was over, he came to the clinic reeking of alcohol. 

We confronted the father about the problems in his home. There was hardly anything to eat at home. The customary breakfast was boiled corn meal and the dinner was rice gruel. There was no lunch. No lentils (dhal) . . . no vegetables . . . leave alone egg, milk or fish . . .

It was by now very obvious that the family had hardly any resources to take the baby even to a local private clinic. He brought him to us expecting us to give concessionary treatement.

By God’s grace, the child showed some amount of improvement on the third day and by the fourth day, he started to feed.

We’ve written off the entire bill.

Well, this is quite a common story for me since I’ve come to know this region. And from colleagues and friends working in similar situations in many of the EAG states, the situation is no different.

I wonder what does the Mangalyan mission mean to parents of CC and BB and similar families in the rest of the country? 

Of dark ages . . .

Recently, we’ve had quite a lot of debates about propriety of having a mission to Mars when quite a large part of the country is so backward and in dire poverty. Of course, the Mangalyan program is commendable and we all are proud of it. However, I strongly feel that stories of neglect and backwardness of our great nation have to be shared. The major reason being the fact that a widening gap between the rich and the poor is something which could hamper the progress of the nation.

So, stories of 2 families in this series .  . . The first one . . .

BB, a 3 week old child was brought by his parents more than a week back. It was so obvious that BB was very very sick. He was not crying and only had a blank stare on his face. Of course, he was not feeding. BB has been sick since the previous day afternoon. BB was brought to the clinic where I sit twice a week the previous evening. However, since I was away, the nurses had referred him to a higher centre.

BB’s parents were very poor. They had taken him to a wizard and he told them that he needs some costly procedures to be done. They had no money to take the baby to a higher centre or to pay the wizard.

We had no choice but to admit the child. By God’s grace, he responded well to antibiotics. However, as soon as the baby was active, the parents wanted to take him home. Later, we came to know that a grandparent had suggested that he be also shown to the wizard so that the disease is completely cured and therefore the urgency to go home.

The parents left with the baby with a promise that he would be brought twice a day for his intravenous antibiotics. They kept their promise. However, the next day, the parents were very anxious to meet me. They narrated to us that the witch doctor has taken out a dozen pieces of bones from the baby’s stomach which was causing all the disease.

They were very confident that the baby will be totally alright now. One of colleagues was quite flabbergasted at their story. He gave them a good piece of his mind.

However, it was quite obvious that they very much believed what the witch doctor has told them.
Occult in its various forms are quite common in our country. However, the poor suffer from it the most. BB’s parents told me that the cost of ‘taking out the stones’ was couple of country chicken which costs a minimum of 600 INR.

We commonly hear about worse forms of occult practice. Elderly women, mostly widows are branded as witches when something untoward happens to someone. These women are hounded, beaten up and in many instances mercilessly killed. One police officer told me of an incident where a widow was decapitated and the head was brought to the police station by the entire village, and nobody could do anything about it. Even, FIRs (first information report) are filed against suspected witches for ill-happenings. And the police are at a loss to do anything.

I wish that witch-craft is something that needs to be dealt with in rural communities of the country. It is not easy. It would need quite a lot of advocacy among the community and its leaders and the success in eradicating it would need community support. However, the benefits would be quite a lot.

The second story in my next post . . .