India struggles to keep its children healthy, say experts

Lack of credible data and co-ordinated action slow country’s efforts to contain malnutrition

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Thursday 05 February 2015

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Even though India’s programmes for nutrition in children were carried out to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, the Global Health Report-2014 shows that their health has not improved substantially. While 46 per cent of under-5 children were stunted in 1997,the figure rose to 48 per cent in 2006.

Reduction in stunting from 1990 to 2011 was more prominent among the rich, while there was only marginal improvement among the poor.The measure of “height for age” is an important indicator in determining the nutrition level among children.
(Read Malnutrition threatens 120 UN member nations, says global report)

In a roundtable consultation on the report in Delhi on Wednesday, experts highlighted good practices to contain malnutrition and made recommendations for the new nutrition programme the Centre will launch in April. The roundtable was organised by Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security and International Food Policy Research Institute, Delhi.

Arti Ahuja, secretary at Odisha’s Department of Health and Family Welfare and member of the independent expert group for the report, said, “Reduction of undernutrition requires concerted action across the board. Many states in India have made significant interventions in this regard, and the positive results are becoming visible.”
Experts referred to Maharashtra andsaid other states should learn from its gains.

“Maharashtra started a nutrition mission, allocated adequate budget and implemented it well with all the stakeholders. A recent study showed that Maharashtra reduced stunting from 36.6 per cent in 2007 to 24 per cent in 2014. Such models should be scaled up to all-India level,” said Laxmikant Palo, senior advisor of nutrition for international non-profit Save the Children.

Other states do not have a mission like Maharashtra and work under various schemes like the mid-day meal scheme and Integrated Child Development Services, a Centre-sponsored programme.

Palo highlighted the importance of credible data.“Relevant data to frame policies is utmost crucial, and this is what we do not find easily. The last data from India is from National Family Health Survey-3 (NFHS) of 2005-06. NFHS-4 is being implemented in 2014-15, after a gap of a decade. This hampers tracking the health status of population of the country,” he said.

Palo also recommended that instead of various ministries working on child nutrition, chief ministers’ and prime minister’s offices must be directly involved.

Under nourishment and anaemia in children - Question raised in Rajya Sabha, 10/02/2014

HUNGaMA (Hunger and Malnutrition) report 2011

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