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The report of the 5th round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2019-20 provides valuable information on matters of population, health and nutrition for the States and Union Territories in India. Like in previous rounds, the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai was appointed as the nodal agency to survey by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.

In the 5th round of the NFHS, new themes like preschool education, disability, access to a toilet facility and death registration, among others, are included. The main objective of the NFHS series has been to furnish high-quality data on health and family welfare and pertinent issues in this domain. The survey report also reveals the effectiveness of various flagship health schemes and further, identifies groups that are most vulnerable and requires essential health services.

Nielsen India Pvt Ltd conducted the NFHS-5 fieldwork in Assam between June and December 2019. A total of 30,119 households participated in the survey, including 34,979 women and 4,973 men.

Bodoland Territorial Region and Health Performance

The Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR), that comes under the state of Assam comprises four districts namely Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri with a population of 3,155,359 (Census, 2011). The region has a newly-elected administration headed by Pramod Boro of the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL). The UPPL is supported by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Gana Suraksha Party (GSP) headed by Lok Sabha MP Naba Sarania.

The survey report reveals some serious health concerns in the four districts of BTR. For instance, women aged between 15 – 49 years are highly anaemic. In Kokrajhar, 59.5 per cent of women are anaemic followed by Chirang and Baksa (65.2 per cent and 73.6 per cent), respectively. However, 81.5 per cent of women are anaemic in Udalguri district, which is higher than the state’s rate of 65.95 per cent.

Similarly, when it comes to anaemia among children aged between 6-59 months, all the four districts (Chirang – 70.4 per cent, Kokrajhar – 74.7 per cent, Udalguri – 77.6 per cent and Baksa – 78.6 per cent) of BTR are higher than Assam’s rate of 68.4 per cent. Moreover, in Assam, 12.8 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men have high blood sugar levels. In the four districts of BTR, men have a higher rate of blood sugar than women.

The rate of violence against women in Assam has increased by 7.5 per cent from 24.5 per cent in the 4th round of NFHS to 32 per cent in the 5th round of NFHS. Assam ranks amongst states that have a high rate of gender-based violence, but there is no district-wise data on this.

This report has also included the proportion of the population that uses tobacco and consumes alcohol. In Assam, 57.6 per cent men aged 15 years and above uses of tobacco and 33.4 per cent of men in the same age bracket consumes alcohol. On the other hand, 14.9 per cent of women in the same age group uses tobacco, and 11.9 per cent consumes alcohol.

The survey report also offers some pleasing insights. The institutional births in all the four districts of BTR have increased from the previous round of NFHS held in 2015-16. In Chirang, the institutional births increased from 59.4 per cent in the 4th round of NFHS to 83.7 per cent in the 5th round of NFHS.

Similarly, it increased from 66.7 per cent to 81.9 per cent in Kokrajhar, 72.2 per cent to 86.2 per cent in Udalguri and 87.8 per cent to 89.9 per cent in Baksa district respectively. Whereas, the institutional birth rate in Assam increased from 70.6 per cent to 84.1 per cent.

All four districts of BTR have a healthy sex ratio (females per 1000 males). In fact, the sex ratio of the four districts (Chirang – 1015, Kokrajhar – 1025, Baksa – 1057 and Udalguri – 1087) is higher than the State’s sex ratio of 1012. The sex ratio of the state itself increased from 993 in the 4th round of NFHS. Besides, Assam, the other northeastern states also have higher sex ratio.

A Better Future

The change in BTR administration gives hope the health of citizens will improve. After all, the present regime headed by Promod Boro won the recently-concluded election with a promise to provide inclusive governance bereft of corruption and exclusion. I hope that the current administration will improve the health indicators of the region by building affordable and accessible health infrastructure.

(The author is a PhD candidate in Development Studies at the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore)

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