Poor health services seed superstition in Odisha tribal hinterlands?

The Boudh case clearly hints that how poor health services, especially in maternity cases, make tribal people believe in sorcery and supernatural powers

Bhubaneswar: Are the poor health services in the State seeding superstition in the minds of poor tribal communities dwelling in remote places of the State?

It seems so. Consider this. The Lundurujhari village situated in the Boudh district bordering Nayagarh has been now under the spell of intense superstition. The tribal village in Talagaon Panchayat under Harbhanga block, nestled between forests and hills, has around a thousand inhabitants. It is interesting to see how and when the spell of superstition gripped this tribal dominated village.

The sudden death of a 5-month pregnant woman in the village has sparked the fear of ‘spirit’ or ‘ghost’ in the psyche of the villagers. The fear of the ‘spirit’ is so high that many inhabitants have started migrating out of the village. Some now talk of falling unconscious after visioning the so-called ‘evil spirit’.  Death toll mounts even after treating at government health centres, claimed Santosh Kanhar. And, therefore, the villagers have taken refuge in sorcery, he claimed. Many have claimed that treatment of sorcerers is working wonder. And sorcerers seem to have replaced doctors in the village.

The Boudh District Collector (DC), however, has junked the ‘spirit’ story of the villagers.  “Blind faith has overwhelmed the villagers for lack of rational thinking. The district administration is making all efforts to provision healthcare facilities to the inhabitants, and simultaneously have taken up an awareness drive,” said Lalatendu Mishra, DC, Boudh.

It needs worth mentioning here that as per data available with the State Health Department, in the year 2018-19, the proportion of female inpatient deaths to total inpatient deaths stood at a massive 56 per cent in Boudh district. This means of every 100 inpatient deaths, 56 were females.  And majority deaths were attributed to pre or post delivery related complications.  Besides, in the ranking of health facilities, Boudh district has been ranked among the low performing ditricts in the State. The data further shows high vacancy of specialist doctors in the CHCs (Community Health Centre), including obstetrics & gynaecologists, in the district.

Moreover, data also revealed high vacancy of health workers in the district. It is the health workers who reach out to such remote places in the State and collect information regarding health problems afflicting people, because, early diagnosis is essential for an effective treatment.

Boudh is only one among the scores of such reports pouring in from tribal hinterlands across the State. And the trend observed is all such districts lack woefully in health services.

When such are the failings, it is the natural tendency of humans to believe in some ‘supernatural’ forces, especially when a patient dies for lack of specialist treatment. And gullible people would then naturally lose trust on modern medicine and term it as ineffective.