THARPARKAR: While the world is trying to understand string of deaths and malnutrition emergency in Tharparkar, one of the basic reasons is that mothers of Thar are not cared for enough. The women of Tharparkar do not have the ‘luxury’ of consulting lady doctors and trained midwives; that would be too much of a financial burden for people who battle with tragic challenges like famines and droughts.
Healthy mothers mean healthy children
Faces of almost all the mothers present at the Mithi Civil Hospital tell tales of malnutrition. “A healthy mother means a healthy child. Thari mothers are underweight,” said Dr Sabira at the hospital. “These mothers cannot be healthy and give birth to normal, healthy babies unless and until they take enough food during pregnancies.”
“Does it matter to anyone if our children are malnourished?” said the sad father holding his eight-months-old baby girl Sukhio at the hospital. Sukhio is one of Tharparkar’s underfed children suffering from illness and weakness. “The responsibility of providing food lies on my shoulders, but I can only feed my family whatever I can afford,” he said with resigned acceptance.
The Daai knows it all?
A midwife who is locally called a Daai is the all-in-one caretaker for a pregnant woman, whose wisdom and experience is never questioned. The woman expecting a baby has to follow whatever the Daai advises. The Daai, a Guru of sorts, commands a certain respect and authority in the communities, and often predicts, without an ultrasound, what the gender of the newborn will be.
The total fees of a Daai is between Rs500 and Rs1,000. If the newborn is a son, an extra Chunni (dupatta) and dry dates are given as a gift in gratitude.
“The family and relatives find out if a son is born by the Daai beating a plate,” said Bhugro, a resident of village Khurbiyoon, explaining the traditions. “If she comes out without a sign, people turn back and understand the new guest is a daughter.”
Gulee and Satto who is another midwife, talking to The Express Tribune in the village Khurbiyoon, agreed that malnourished children are a result of mothers continuously giving birth to many children without spacing. “The minimum gap is usually nine to 15 months. A child doesn’t get breastfed enough in case of another hasty pregnancy,” they said. “Our women quite commonly give birth to up to 12 children,” they said and laughed, saying there was a woman in Khurbiyoon village who has borne 18 children.
The underfed moms-to-be
A pregnant woman is hardly ever advised to take extra food supplements. “She can take desi ghee and milk, if she can afford to,” said Gulaban, popularly known as Gulee. Gulee, a prominent untrained midwife of village Phulio, has 17 years of experience of assisting deliveries. In her opinion, it doesn’t matter if the pregnant woman doesn’t take extra or adequate meals. “Hundreds of my patients didn’t take any supplements and gave birth to normal kids,” she justified. “Yes, our kids are weak, but it is not because of lack of food, but because of the poor health of their mothers.”
Satto was trained by a local organization some five years ago, and believes that the malnourished child is the result of a weak mother. “I used to advise women to take complete meals but it didn’t work out, because they can’t afford to,” she added.
The food of a pregnant woman is normally just one to two rotis and a glass of milk if she is lucky. The average Thari woman doesn’t visit a doctor even in case of a problem but calls the Daai who can only advise the woman some desi remedy.
Feed not the baby
The midwives of the desert use centuries-old remedies for newborns which are often detrimental to mother and child’s health. Traditionally, a Thari baby is not breastfed for at least 48 hours after birth. Many mothers, who follow instructions of Daais religiously, believe the first milk is toxic for their children. Thus, the newborns lose out on the proven benefits of the first milk called Colostrum, which contains important antibodies to protect the newborn against disease, and is lower in fat and higher in protein compared to ordinary milk.
“A mother is advised not to feed the baby immediately after birth. It could be injurious,” Satto said. “It is better to give milk [of goat] and gurr to the newborn,” she stressed. She shared that newborns are also immediately given desi ghee. “The mother dips her finger in ghee and puts it in child’s mouth.” The newborns are also given drops of hot water till their mothers are allowed to feed them.
Usually, pediatricians advise that a newborn should be breastfed for 24 months but this practice doesn’t exist in the desert. “Six months are enough; mothers start giving pieces of roti to babies within two months,” said Noor, mother of a newborn, while she was waiting for a doctor outside the Civil Hospital, Mithi.