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Survey of the present health & nutritional status of Shompen tribe of Great Nicobar Island.

BACKGROUND OBJECTIVES: Shompens are one of the two mongoloid tribes of Nicobar district. There is little information about their recent health status since the last survey which was conducted in 1998. Hence, a comprehensive health and nutritional survey was conducted in March 2017 to assess the changes. The survey was carried out by a joint team of various organizations including the ICMR-Regional Medical Research Centre and Tribal Welfare and Health Department both located in Port Blair.

METHODS: A detailed health and nutrition survey of the Shompen community was planned by deputing a field research team. The survey included demographic data, anthropometric data, clinical examination, screening for the markers of infectious diseases, respiratory pathogens, tuberculosis and haemoglobinopathies.

RESULTS: About half of the Shompen adults (both males and females) had a body mass index (BMI) of ≥23. However, Shompen children had a good nutritional status with no child suffering from undernutrition. As per BMI for age, none of the children <5 yr were under-nourished, while in the 5-17 yr group, 12 per cent of children were undernourished. Anaemia prevalence was about 48.3 per cent, with 54 per cent prevalence in females and 43.8 per cent in males. Fungal infection of the skin, acute respiratory infection and abdominal pain were the common morbidities observed. None had active pulmonary tuberculosis. Of 38 Shompens screened for IgG (immunoglobulin G) antibodies, 42.1 and 18.4 per cent were positive for measles and rubella, respectively. Seroprevalence of Leptospira was 35.5 per cent. The prevalence of hypertension was 13.2 per cent, whereas another 28.9 per cent were pre-hypertensive.

INTERPRETATION CONCLUSIONS: The population structure of the Shompen is not skewed and under nutrition was not widely prevalent among the children of <5 yr. The other positive observations were the absence of malaria, filariasis and dengue. However, there was natural infection of measles and rubella. Fungal skin infection and intestinal parasitic infestations were widely prevalent. Although cardiovascular risk profile was low, there were signs of emerging risk of over-weight, hypertension and dyslipidaemia. These together with the high prevalence of smokeless tobacco use may have a serious effect on the cardiovascular disease susceptibility of the Shompen population in the future.

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