Village Health Nurses play a crucial role in preventing female infanticide in the State. They keep the record of antenatal mothers, pay weekly visits and provide post-natal care for at least the first six months, thus keeping mortality rate of mothers and newborns in check.
In both the cases of female infanticide at Usilampatti in March and Sholavandan in May in Madurai district, they were the ones who played a crucial role in bringing the crime to light.
Despite playing such an important role, they complain of poor salaries and allowances, heavy workload, unsafe working conditions, poor training and systemic gap. K. Chinnaponnu, a functionary of Tamil Nadu Village Health Nurses Association, works at a Primary Health Centre in Chellampatti block. A VHN there was taking care of the 31-day-old baby who was allegedly killed by her parents and grandfather in Usilampatti in March.
Ms. Chinnaponnu says each VHN served a population of about 5,000 people. They begin their week by visiting pregnant women. They register new cases, give urine tests to confirm pregnancy and check on their health. We visit four or five villages a week. Women line up at an anganwadi for check-up. In case of complication, we ask the women to come to the PHC the following day, she says.
A nurse says that post birth, they must complete seven visits in six months to monitor the health of mother and child. During the visits, we come across family problems and know whether they can raise the child. If they cannot, we speak to them about giving their child for legal adoption. We strongly advise family planning, she says.
5,500 as basic salary
Ms. Chinnaponnu says this process of visiting and taking charge of PHC deliveries are taxing. The VHNs start with 5,500 as basic salary and have a 2,000 pay-scale increase based on experience. She says they are given meagre travel allowance. We find it difficult to run the family with such a low pay, she says.
They have all learnt to navigate the new Pregnancy and Infant Cohort Monitoring and Evaluation (PICME) system created by the State government to keep track of antenatal mothers, all by themselves.
Ms. Chinnaponnu says VHNs face problem while trying to convince parents to consider family planning. The preference for male child has not changed much over time. When a woman has two or three girl children, we tell them not to continue trying. However, the fathers hurl abuses at us, she says.
Another VHN in Sedapatti block says, Phones have made our job easier to conduct the checks instead of making field visits, though a personal touch is lost in the process.
On the recent infanticide, she says, It is not at all shocking. We know their mindset. First they wanted the baby but changed the mind after they left the PHC.
High dowry demanded during marriage is one of the reasons for the prevalence of female infanticide, it is felt.