New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday mentioned the Indian government’s nutrition programs and also talked about how they have been helpful in reducing the problem of malnutrition. However, the reality is that 47 years after the launch of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the government’s oldest flagship program to eradicate malnutrition, one in three children in India is still malnourished. This has resulted from the latest data from the National Family Health Survey-5.
In his monthly radio show ‘Mann Ki Baat’, Modi spoke about India’s nutrition programs and urged Indians to participate in efforts to eradicate malnutrition in the country. The Prime Minister was addressing the program just before ‘Poshan Maah’ in September.
However, NFHS-5 data, conducted between 2019 and 2021 and released in May this year, shows that 35.5% of Indian children under 5 (urban-30.1%, rural-37.3) have growth retardation, that is to say, their height. It is less for their age.
The data also show that 32.1 percent of children in the same age group (urban: 27.3 percent, rural: 33.8 percent) are vulnerable – that is, they weigh less than their age- and that 19.3 percent of children (urban: 18.5 percent). they weigh less. , rural – 19.5 percent) are underweight, whose weight is lower than their height.
While the latest NFHS survey, a national survey conducted by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, shows a marginal improvement over the previous survey (NFHS-4) conducted between 2015 and 2016, 38.4% of children were stunted, 21 were weak, and 35.8% were underweight.
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But the total number remains a cause for great concern. Experts say India is caught in a vicious cycle where malnourished girls grow up to become malnourished mothers and then give birth to malnourished babies.
Experts agree that the problem of poverty is one of the main reasons for this, but at the same time they stress that structural issues have not been fully taken into account in the implementation model of India’s nutrition programs .
Dr Arun Gupta, a former member of the Prime Minister’s Nutrition Council, told ThePrint that India is facing the problem of “severely malnourished children”.
Dr. Says Gupta, “ICDS was started by the Government of India in 1975 with a clear objective of improving the health and nutritional status of young children in the country. But even then, the problem persists despite some other changes “because ICDS has been a very stressed program from the beginning”.
Experts say that another problem is that of jurisdiction, while health is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, while nutrition depends on the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD), so s ‘implement the programs related to these. problems enter
Meanwhile, government officials say the central government’s “Poshan Abhiyan” is a “multi-ministerial” program in which the health ministry plays an important role.
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Poverty is an important reason
Dr Gupta says there is also an aspect to this problem that “the government thinks there is enough food available and the problem is just lack of awareness”.
Dr. Gupta was part of the Prime Minister’s Nutrition Council set up in 2008 under the leadership of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The council was tasked with formulating and revising policy guidelines, as well as “effective coordination among ministries working to address the nutrition challenge.”
He told ThePrint: “I think lack of information is only one aspect of the problem. Poverty also plays a big role. Any program implemented to combat malnutrition must focus on two things: communication and nutrition .In general, governments have focused only on communication.
In general, the opinion of experts has been that poverty and malnutrition are intertwined. A study by the International Institute of Population Sciences, published in the BMC Nutrition Journal in 2020, found that children had higher rates of malnutrition who belonged to households that were not part of the public distribution system.
In the study, the researchers wrote: “Children from poor families outside the PDS have the highest undernutrition and this suggests that they should be included in the PDS.” To reduce the level of malnutrition in India, there is a need to improve the quality of food grains and further enrich the PDS food basket.
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health and nutrition
Experts also agree that putting health and nutrition under two separate ministries is unnecessary and adds to discrepancies at the grassroots level.
Dr Gupta said: “There is a fundamental flaw in the attention given to the problem of nutrition. You cannot separate health and nutrition.
However, a senior government official in the health ministry said the government’s POSHAN Abhiyaan is “a diversified multi-ministerial campaign in which health is of course a big part”.
“As part of the National Health Mission, we have issued ‘Operational Guidelines for Hospital Treatment of Children Affected by Extremely Severe Malnutrition’,” the official told ThePrint. There are 1,080 nutritional rehabilitation centers under one health center and highly malnourished children are treated here.
The guidelines have been designed keeping in mind the need to provide hospital treatment for severely malnourished children.
Former bureaucrat Preeti Sudan says there are so many aspects of malnutrition that can get lost in the running of the health ministry as the ministry has to focus on so many other things.
He told ThePrint, “I think the responsibility for this, which currently lies with the Ministry of WCD, should be given to Anganwadi (the child care center run under ICDS to combat malnutrition and hunger) because of its important community. connection. At the same time, he says, “coordination among grassroots workers is very important.
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