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[Answered] Discuss how focusing public policy on bio-fortification, sanitation and women’s education can resolve India’s malnutrition problem.

Demand of the question Introduction. Contextual introduction. Body. Discuss the need to focus public policy on bio-fortification, sanitation and women’s education can resolve India’s malnutrition problem. Conclusion. Way forward.

Malnutrition is one of the principle public health problems in India. The Global Hunger Index 2019 ranks India at 102 out of 119 countries. Despite rapid economic growth, declining levels of poverty, enough food to export, and a multiplicity of government programmes, malnutrition amongst the poorest remains high.

Need of public policy on bio-fortification, sanitation and women’s education to resolve malnutrition problem:

Bio-fortification: Biofortification is the process by which the nutritional quality of food crops is improved through agronomic practices, conventional plant breeding, or modern biotechnology. Deficiencies of iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc are the most common causes of disease in developing countries. Nutritious diet is vital for proper growth and development in humans. Biofortification could assist nutrient deficient populations to utilize nutrient enhanced staple crops to assist in achieving a person’s daily nutrient intake. By utilizing staple crops that have been fortified, public acceptance of the new varieties is easier and does not require additional education in relation to preparation. Further, these biofortified varieties assume great significance to achieve nutritional security of the country.It provides energy, protein, essential fats, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals to meet our daily metabolic requirement.
Sanitation:  Water supply, sanitation, and hygiene, has a direct impact on infectious disease, especially diarrhea and are important for preventing malnutrition. The World Health Organization estimates that 50% of malnutrition is associated with repeated diarrhea or intestinal worm infections from unsafe water or poor sanitation or hygiene.Stunting can stem from a chronic illness caused by inflammation that keeps the body from absorbing calories and nutrients. Children who are exposed to open defecation or who don’t have a clean water supply may ingest bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites that cause intestinal infection, chronic inflammation in a child leading to stunting and anaemia, and puts children at risk for poor early childhood development.
Women’s education: Research has found mother’s education has a positive impact on the nutrition status of their children. Domestic violence and lack of education result in weak bargaining power of women relative to their male partners and to other household members which adversely impacts the nutritional status of women and their children. It also increases awareness about nutrient-rich diet, personal hygiene, etc. This can also help contain the family size in poor, malnourished families. The child nutritional outcomes further depend upon household income, number of children, access to healthcare, and quality of sanitation. All this significantly improves through women’s education.Further, an educated woman understands the importance of hygiene and sanitation. Thus, they emphasise on access to a flush toilet and clean water that is related to better nutritional status of children in terms of stunting and underweight.

Way forward:

  1. Using fortified food: Fortified food can be incorporated into a mid-day meal, public distribution shops and Anganwadi centres.
  2. New agricultural technologies: Achieving zero hunger requires agriculture and food systems to become more efficient, sustainable, climate-smart and nutrition-sensitive. India must adopt new agricultural technologies of bio-fortifying cereals, such as zinc-rich rice, wheat, iron-rich pearl millet, and so on.
  3. Change in food habits: There is a need to shift dietary patterns from cereal dominance to the consumption of nutritious foods such as livestock products, fruits and vegetables, pulses, etc. Diverting a part of the food subsidy on wheat and rice to more nutritious foods can help.
  4. Food and nutrition commission: A food and nutrition commission should be established, headed by the Prime Minister.
  5. Improving sanitation: Access to improved sanitation and safe drinking water is important. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Jal Jeevan Mission would have positive outcomes in this direction.
  6. Mother’s education: It is one of the most important factors that has a positive multiplier effect on child care and access to healthcare facilities. Thus, a high priority to female literacy, in a mission mode through liberal scholarships for the girl child, would go a long way towards tackling this problem.

The vision to ensure attainment of malnutrition free India by 2022 continues through more innovations and pilot programs and has reached the grass root level households. Poshan Abhiyaan has received global recognition for its effort in eradicating malnutrition. Yet there is much far to go in ending malnutrition issues in India.

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