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India’s struggle against malnutrition

Context:

The Union Cabinet approved the launch of National Nutrition Mission with a target to reduce malnutrition and low weight by 2% each year.

Introduction:

  • The mission will be jointly launched by the ministries of WCD, Health and Family Welfare and Water Resources, together with NITI Aayog.

Benefits of National Nutrition Mission:

  • More than 10 crore people will be benefited by this programme.
  • All the states and district will be covered in a phased manner; to begin with the worst affected 315 districts will be targeted this financial year.
  • The core idea behind the mission is to converge all the existing programmes on a single platform.

Targets for National Nutrition Mission:

  • Under the mission, the government is targeting a reduction of 2% a year in stunting, undernutrition and low birthweight among 100 million people
  • The mission targets to bring down stunting in children.
  • As per the National Family Health Survey, 38.4% of children in India have stunted growth. The mission plans to bring this down to 25% by 2022.
  • It aims to bring down anaemia among young children, women and adolescent girls by 3% every year.
  • Under the mission, the government is targeting a reduction of 2% a year in stunting, undernutrition and low birthweight among 100 million people.
  • The programme would be undertaken in a phased manner, covering 315 districts in 2017-18, 235 districts in 2018-19 and the remaining districts in 2019-20.
  • The mission would include several components like an ICT (information and communications technology)-based real-time monitoring system, incentivizing of states and Union territories to meet their targets, social audits, and setting up of nutrition resource centres.

Malnutrition in India:

  • Malnutrition refers to the situation where there is an unbalanced diet in which some nutrients are in excess, lacking or wrong proportion.
  • The World Bank estimates that India is one of the highest ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition.
  • The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world and is nearly double that of Sub Saharan Africa.

Global Hunger Index Report 2017:

  • The 2017 Global Hunger Index (GHI) Report ranked India 97th out of 118 countries with a serious hunger situation.
  • Amongst the South Asian nations, it ranks third behind only Afghanistan and Pakistan with a GHI score of 29.0(“serious situation”).

What are the causes of India’s poor performance at GHI?

Improper implementation

  • A major hindrance in fighting starvation in India is the lack of proper implementation of government schemes which are directed towards providing food for one and all

Corruption is the root cause

  • Corruption on the local levels or there is a disinterest among the government officials to ensure that the schemes are properly being carried out.

flawed food distribution system

  • Almost 51% of the food delivered is lost to leakages and is sold in the open market for a higher price.

Causes of Child stunting:

  • Poor sanitation spread diseases that sap children’s energy and stunts their growth.
  • Poverty is also one of the causes.
  • Poor health of a child’s mother and Women’s undernourishment.
  • Lack of food, quality as well as capacity to absorb and utilize nutrients.
  • Non exclusive breastfeeding
  • Reduced appetite due to infection
  • Loopholes in the National Food Security Bill :Clear mechanisms with respect to the identification of beneficiaries have not been defined
  • Lack of awareness: Lack of awareness among people about sufficient health and nutrition is the primary reason (about wholesome, balanced and natural diets; healthy child-feeding and caring practices)

Consequences:

  • Children who are on stunted do less well in school, earn less, and die sooner than children who are not.
  • It affects women more than males due to specific nutrition needs of women during adolescent, pregnancy and lactation.
  • Undernourished girls grow up to become undernourished women who give birth to a new generation of undernourished children.
  • Undernourishment puts women on a greater risk of pregnancy related complications.
  • Anaemia and other deficiencies can have irreversible damage on child’s ability to learn.
  • Widespread child under nutrition greatly impedes India’s socio-economic development and potential to reduce poverty.

Government initiatives:

  • As per the one of the targets under Sustainable Development Goals , by 2030 end all form of malnutrition.
  • Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme and Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Adolescent Girls i.e SABLA.
  • ICDS covers the nutrition needs of children of 6 months -6 years ago, pregnant and lactating mothers.
  • Treatment of Children with severe acute malnutrition at special units called the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres (NRCs), set up public health facilities.
  • National Health Mission, Mid-Day Meal scheme, and Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana(IGMSY).

Challenges:

  • India has the highest level of malnutrition and highest stunted children in the world.
  • Childbearing at an early age can cause nutrition deficiencies in the womb and increase the risk of death by many folds.
  • Poor people avoid hospitals due to heavy expenditure involved during delivery.
  • Inadequate iron intake can lead to iron deficiencies which lead to permanently impaired cognitive abilities, which lead to a reduction in adult wages.
  • Lack of institutional framework to address malnutrition.
  • Lack of inter-sectoral convergence among different departments of government.
  • Lack of monitoring and accountability in public funded nutrition programme.

Does the constitution of India pledge the right to food?

  • The right to food or in general the economic, social, and cultural rights are defined in Part IV of the Constitution as Directive Principles of State Policy
  • The Right to Food in Indian Constitution is not recognized as a “Fundamental Right”
  • Article 21 and 47 of the constitution obliges the Government of India to take appropriate measures to ensure a dignified life with adequate food for all citizens.

Article 47

  • Article 47 of the Indian Constitution provides that it is the “duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health”.

Article 21

  • Protection of life and personal liberty – No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty

Solutions:

  • Boosting nutrition level across the country.
  • Sustained efforts to promote millet and pulses production and distribution under food security programme.
  • A food and nutrition commission should be established, headed by the Prime Minister.
  • Micronutrients are required in small quantities and responsible for vial functions of the human body.
  • Therapeutic feeding for children with severe acute malnutrition.
  • Fortified food can be incorporated into a mid-day meal, public distribution shops and angadwadi centres.

Conclusion:

India has a major child malnutrition problem. Timely and effective policy, programmes and budgetary allocation is very much essential. Now it is time to combine the existing technical knowledge with the political will to change the lives of millions of children and women in India.

It is very important to invest in nutrition in India because balanced diet and healthy nutrition plays a pivotal role in overall development of women and children. The  National Nutrition Mission programme is the good initiative in this direction.

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