Tribal women in Dharmapuri forced to seek private hospitals for childbirth

Tribal women of the Sitling panchayat in Dharmapuri district seek private hospitals for childbirth, according to information received under the Right to Information Act.

According to the response to a question posed under the Act, the panchayat is covered by a primary health centre, which has 10 employees as against the 11 sanctioned posts, including two assistant surgeons and two village health nurses, a pharmacist and a staff nurse on duty. The post of ambulance driver is vacant.

Yet, in the past three years, of the more than 100 women who had registered their pregnancy at the primary health centre, only a handful were taken in for delivery. Fewer than 10 others had gone to the Dharmapuri government hospital, while a majority had gone to private hospitals.

The primary health centre conducts regular investigations, including advanced tests for diabetes; HIV; tuberculosis; and filaria, the response revealed.

R. Murthy, a resident of Sitling in Harur taluk, sought the information. He has appealed to the Chief Minister, the Health Minister and the Collector, besides the district health officials, to address the issue.

The panchayat is around 100 km from the district headquarters. “The women work from 8 a.m. till 1 p.m. as casual labourers and earn ₹150. For a full-day work, they are paid ₹200. They take loans to go to private hospitals and struggle to pay even the interest,” he said.

According to him, the panchayat has around 1,000 women. The response to the RTI question revealed that in 2020-21, 132 women were registered as pregnant; in 2021-22, 118 women were pregnant; and between April and September last year, 90 women were pregnant.

Women get the first instalment of ₹2,000 and a nutrition kit under the Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternity Benefit Scheme when they register their pregnancy. The rest of the money will be credited to their account only if they undergo childbirth at a government facility.

“The staff [at the primary health centre] say they do not have a generator to tackle power cuts. It would help to station an ambulance in the panchayat,” Mr. Murthy added.

Activist Chella Selvakumar, of Samakalvi Iyakkam, who had earlier taken up the death of tribal children in the district, said, “If they are continuing to seek services [at private hospitals], we wonder if the government staff are colluding with private hospitals to divert patients [there].”

The aim of the financial support under the Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternity Benefit Scheme was to ensure the health of pregnant women during and after childbirth. The purpose is defeated by the neglect on the part of the government, Mr. Selvakumar said.

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