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Ethnographic and health profile of the Dongria Kondh: a primitive tribal group of Niyamgiri hills in eastern ghats of Orissa

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  • Regional Medical Research Centre, Bhubaneswar, India

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Of the 461 scheduled tribes in India, Orissa has declared 62 tribal communities and 13 as primitive tribal groups (PTG). Dongrias, a major sect of the great Kondh tribe, mostly stay on high hills known as Dongar. The Dongria Kondh is one of the officially designated PTG in Orissa. They are the original inhabitants of Niyamgiri hilly region which extends to Rayagada, Koraput and Kalahandi districts of south Orissa. The Dongria population is confined to three community development blocks namely Bissamcuttack and Munuguda of Gunpur sub-division and Kalyansinghpur Block of Rayagada sub-division. Dongria Kondhs have an estimated population of about 10,000 and are distributed in around 120 settlements, all at an altitude up to 5,000 feet above the sea-level. They speak a language, called the kuvi, which is of Dravidian linguistic ancestry that has no script. They are patrilineal and patriarchal; they have nuclear families, extended families, lineage and clans. Unlike other tribal groups of India, Dongria Kondhs are known for their deep knowledge and skill in horticulture. They largely rely on hunting, gathering and shifting cultivation in the Niyamgiri hills for survival. However, due to development interventions in education, medical facilities, irrigation, plantation and so on and so forth, they have started adapting to the great tradition or modern civilization standards in many ways. Their traditional life style, customary traits of economy political organization, norms, values and world view have been drastically changed over a long period of time. Their population is around 10000 spread over 120 villages with a sex ratio of 1352 females/ 1000 males. Literacy rate is less than 10%, particularly female literacy in only 3%. Dongria Kondh is an endogamous group and within them the clans are exogamous divided into several patrilineal clans forming socio-cultural territorial organizations. The health status is poor due to high level of poverty, poor environmental sanitation and hygiene, and increased morbidity from water-borne and vector-borne infections. Poor knowledge on availability and access to public health care facilities resulting in increased severity and duration of illnesses. Moreover, social barriers and taboos preventing utilization of healthcare services increase vulnerability to specific endemic and communicable diseases. Malnutrition is fairly common, especially young children and women debilitating their physical condition and lowering resistance to disease, leading at times even to behavioural impairment. More than 70% of households are protein-energy deficient with a wide range of seasonal variation. Protein-energy malnutrition is more common, 66%, 63% and 21% of in preschool children are underweight, stunting and wasting respectively indicating growth retardation. Malnourishment is seen in 60% of schoolage children and 50% of adolescents. Low body-mass index (BMI<18.5 kg/m2) reflected in 55% of adults shows chronic energy deficiency. Micronutrient deficiencies particularly iron, vitamin A and iodine are of public health significance. Iron deficiency anaemia is widespread problem among all the age groups. Iodine deficiency disorders are endemic in the Niyamgiri region with a high goitre rate and low urinary iodine excretion, while 10% of households are using iodized salt. There is certainly an urgent need to focus on this social isolate community in formulating specific programs and strengthening existing schemes to improve the health and nutritional status at par with mainland populations.
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Health, disease, and health seeking behaviour of tribal people in India
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