An Acid Test
Tablets provided by the Assam Health Department results in hundreds of school children hospitalized
More than 300 girl students fell sick after being given iron folic acid tablets provided by the state health department to the schools in Sonitpur and Darrang of Assam and two other districts on May 23rd. Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, said an inquiry has been ordered into the matter.The administrations of Darrang and Sonitpur have also ordered separate probes. The health department tried to downplay the incident saying that the students might have taken the tablet on an empty stomach which led to the sickness. Reports said that about 50 students of Sipajhar BJ Girls’ High School in Darrang district fell ill after about an hour of taking the iron tablets on May 23rd afternoon. The students reportedly fell sick after taking the iron tablets which were given free of cost to the girl students in government schools under a girl-child welfare scheme. They were taken to the Sipajhar First Referral Unit, while the district administration also rushed mobile health vans to the affected schools. The girls complained of stomach pain and started vomiting about an hour after taking the pills. Similar reports of students falling ill after taking the tablets were also received from Hawajan Higher Secondary School, Hawajan Girls High School, Dubia High School and, South Kalabari High School and various schools in Baksa and Udalguri districts. The first incident took place at Hawajan High School near Gohpur in Sonitpur district, where 52 students were taken ill after consuming the iron tablets. The students were rushed to Gohpur civil hospital, where their condition is reported to be stable. Hundreds of students from 20 schools in Gohpur subdivision complained of sickness and of them, 13 were admitted at the Biswanath Chariali Civil hospital after they complained of stomachache. Similarly, around 80 girl students from Sonitpur reportedly fell sick after consuming the pills and 19 of them were admitted at the Kanaklata Civil Hospital in Tezpur at about 1 pm on the same day after they complained of acute stomachache and headache. These girls belonged to two different schools of the district — Tezpur Collegiate High School and Jugal High School, Bihaguri. All the 19 hospitalized girls of the school were from Class VIII to Class X. A student of Class VIII, Tezpur Collegiate High School, Deepti Khaklari, while talking to Eastern Panorama said: “The medical team came to our school and told us to have the iron tablet. They also said that those who have come after taking food at home should have the tablet and others should not. But later those students who came without food were given a meal from the school and also given the tablet. Half an hour after we took the tablets, we felt headache and stomach pain. We were then given tablets to prevent headache and stomach pain but the situation later became serious as we started vomiting,” she said. Altogether 58 girl students from Tezpur Collegiate High School had consumed the tablet. Out of them, 28 students fell sick and 19 of them were hospitalized. Assistant teacher, Tezpur Collegiate High School, Reema Das informed this correspondent that officials from the health department had visited the school and had a formal discussion on the medicine, its usefulness and necessity with the teachers and the students, before administering the tablets at 10 am to all the girl students from class VIII to X. “Just half an hour after the girls took iron tablets, they experienced nausea, vomiting, head ache, body ache and loose motion. A panic situation was created at the school. We immediately admitted all the affected girls at the hospital,” she said. A similar panic situation occurred at the Jugal High School of Bihaguri, 15 kilometers from Tezpur. Meanwhile, five of the 18 girls admitted at Mangaldai Civil Hospital have been sent to GMCH for better treatment. After a few hours of the sad incident, all the 18 students of Sipajhar BJ Girls High School who were admitted to Mangaldai Civil Hospital after taking iron folic acid tablet provided by the Health department under NRHM project have been discharged from the hospital after an overnight stay. The Superintendent of Mangaldai Civil Hospital, Dr Bijit Saharia said that the condition of all the students has improved and hence they had been discharged from the hospital. Meanwhile the Deputy Commissioner of Mangaldai, Sohrab Ali has ordered for a magistrate level inquiry into the incident.
Dispur has allayed fears that consumption of iron folic acid tablets by girl students could prove to be fatal. Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that there was no reason to panic over these incidents in Sonitpur and Darrang districts where several schoolgirls fell ill after consuming folic acid tablets. He said the students fell ill because they had taken the tablets on an empty stomach. Several hundred girls fell ill after having the iron folic acid tablets that were distributed free in schools under the National Rural Health Mission. A Himachal Pradesh - based medicine firm supplied the tablets to the Assam government. These tablets are distributed to girl students every Wednesday, primarily to prevent anemia. Sarma said that according to the National Female Health Survey conducted by the Centre, 69 per cent of females in Assam aged between 15 and 50 years suffer from anemia, a condition where there is a decrease in number of red blood cells (RBCs) or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. “Anemia is one of the prime reasons for high maternal mortality rate in Assam over the years. Since 2007, the secondary education department in association with the NRHM and Unicef have been organizing health programmes to distribute free folic acid tablets among girl students of Class IX and X. A girl has to take one folic acid tablet once a week for one year to stave off anemia,” the minister added. He further said that consumption of folic acid tablets especially on an empty stomach has some side effects like vomiting, dizziness, loose motion, headache and stomachache. He said that despite raising the awareness level by Unicef and schools many girls take such tablets on an empty stomach and the incidents in Sonitpur and Darrang districts were just examples. “Many girls in rural and remote areas come to schools in the morning on an empty stomach because of poverty. Such an incident is very unfortunate and sad. According to preliminary investigation, a few girls who fell ill after taking the folic acid tablets in Darrang district admitted that they came to school on the fateful day without taking any food in the morning. So, there should not be any panic reaction and girls who took the medicine will be okay soon,” he said. Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, said that he had already instructed the medicine department of Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) to check the quality of folic acid tablets available in the state.
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