What schools have to do with health

What schools have to do with health

Context

  • Malnutrition in India and its solution
  • India’s under three-year-old child malnutrition rate was double the poverty rate and 20 times the percentage of the hungry in India (percentage of households in which any member had less than two full meals, on any day of the month, that is, even one day without two square meals counts as hungry).

The broad aspects of malnutrition that must be kept in mind when devising strategies for dealing with it.

  1. The ability to access food items. This depends on household income or the ability to sustain certain levels of consumption. The rate of poverty (headcount ratio) is the standard indicator.
  2. household/family knowledge and information about good nutrition. This includes knowledge about locally available foods that are good from the nutrition perspective. ability to read coupled with the availability of appropriate reading material on nutrition; access to media such as newspapers, radio and TV, coupled with propagation of such information on radio and finally, special programmes like the ICDS that directly educate mothers about child rearing and nutrition.
  3. the state of health. Even if the right kind of food and nutrition is available, a child may not be able to consume and/or absorb it properly due to ill health or sickness.
  4. Poverty affects cross-state differences in child malnutrition
    1. It has to be addressed through economic growth, reform of welfare programmes etc.
    2. The average per capita GDP is an important determinant of poverty.
    3. The consumption share of the bottom 40 per cent of the population is an important determinant of poverty.

Solution

Social welfare benefits from direct intervention by the government to improve the lot of the bottom 40 per cent can come if it focuses on two long-neglected quasi-public goods.

  1. Public health including communicable disease and vector control, quality drinking water, drainage, sewerage and solid waste disposal in every city, town and village in the country.
    1. In the Indian environment, access to water and toilets, breastfeeding (to impart immunity in an unhealthy environment), access to sound health advice/treatment, the prevalence of vaccination and availability of vitamin supplements are possible indicators.
  2. Universal primary education and literacy to a global standard that is visible in learning outcomes.
    1. Literacy can help in acquiring knowledge about hygiene, nutrition and sanitation. The government must ensure that every citizen has the education that she is supposed to acquire with the completion of primary education.

Example

  • The ICDS programme seems to have helped in providing public health education to mothers and thus contributed to the outcome. The policy implications, however, extend beyond nutrition to other health outcomes.

Conclusion

  • Improvements in environmental sanitation could have a significant impact in reducing malnutrition in India.
  • The importance of primary education, particularly of females, in helping spread information and knowledge about personal hygiene, sanitation and nutrition. Much more could, however, be done through appropriate school curricula and media campaigns to promote public health education.
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