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INDIA has shown commendable
achievements in health and nutrition
in the past 40 years and C Gopalan,
former"director-general of the Indian
Council of Medical Research, considers the "most outstanding achievement" to be the virtual banishment of large-scale famine.
In a study recently released by
the World Health Organisation
(WHO), entitled Nutrition in
Developmental Transition in
Southeast Asia" Qydpalan notes the
Bengal famine of 1943 was the country's last great famine. The muchpublicised Bihar famine of the 1960s,
he contends, was "a famine that
never was" because the government
implemented employment generation
and food supply programmes.
Another achievement, he says, is that
foodgrain production has been kept
above the massive population growth
and per capita availability of cereals
has increased from 346.47 gin per
dey in 1965 to 424.52 gm. in 1988.
Nutritional deficiency diseases
such as beriberi, pellagra and kwashiorkor have either disappeared or
been reduced considerably in incidence. Better nutrition and health
care have pushed up Indian life
expectancy; in fact, the -figure for
women is now better than that for
men. Between 1965 and 1989, male
life expectancy moved
up from 46 to 58 and One achie
female life expectancy
from 44 to 59.
The Green Revolution, says Gopalan, has
been a mixed blessing, because while cereal production rose from 142,29
million tonnes (mt) in
1978 to 176 mt in 1988,
pulses fell from 11.7 mt productia
to 11.2 mt and per capita
availability of pulses
declined from 61 gm a
day in 1951 to 33 gin a
day in 1988.
Seetere has been the
decline in jowar, baira,
still end up with a staggering estimate of more than 215 million hungry people," Gopalan says.
Gopalan asserts environmental
change is steadily becoming an
important cause of nutritional deficiency. Water resources, for instance,
are under severe pressure because
though the demand for drinking
water is increasing, water resources
are getting polluted.
Gopalan is especially concerned
that a decline in fisheries is "looming
large in several countries of the
region because of several practices
and technologies that have become a
part of the development process."
His concern is because fish is a
cheap source of nutrition for
poor communities living in river
basins and along coasts.
Embankments prevent young fish
'from entering -small ponds and wetlands, and dams prevent the migration of fish species, leading to their
decline. Severe damage also is being
caused to fisheries by toxic industrial
effluents, with the most notable
metallic pollutants in India,
Indonesia, Bangladesh and Jhailand
being mercury, lead, cadmi m, copper, zinc and chromium. Human
waste and untreated sewage and pesticides used extensively in modern
agriculture damage fisheries even more.
An anomaly noted by Gopalan is
that lathyrism - spastic paralysis of
lower limbs - which used to be seen
often in Madhya Pradesh because of
excessive consumption of the pulse,
kesri do] (Lathyrus sativus), is not
reporte 'd as often now. The credit,
however, does not go to doctors but
to "market forces" because, according to Gopalan, it is more profitable
to export the pulse outside the state
so it can be used to adultarate more
Gopalan suggests nutrition goals
should be set to meet the challenges
of the next few decades and these
must include the elimination of three
major, nutrition-related health problems - goitre, hypovitaminosis and
iron-deficiencyanaemia. The nutri-
tion of mothers and children should
be improved so as to reduce by 50
per cent the incidence of low
birthweight deliveries and to minimise the extent of growth retardation in children under five. Gopalan,
finally, stresses the need to curtail
the dietary excess'es of the affluent,
which result in obesity, degenerative
disease and cancer.