Competitive Exams: Current Affairs 2012: HUNGaMA Report

  • The recent ‘HUNGaMA’ report from 112 districts over nine States tells us that 42 per cent of children are underweight and 58 per cent are stunted by the age of 24 months.

  • In addition to greatly increasing the chances of infant death, child malnutrition has other devastating consequences. Research has established that the damage that begins in the womb and during the first two years of life is irreversible, leading to reduced intelligence and physical capacity. Malnutrition thus has a direct impact on productivity and economic growth. It is also clear that the consequences of malnutrition transcend generations, as stunted mothers are likely to have underweight children.

  • Why is child malnutrition still so high in India?

  • The seriousness of the problem is still largely invisible to the families and communities that experience them.

  • Equally important is the fact that adequate nutrition is not seen as a human right and the malnourished have little voice in determining the directions of policy.

  • There are also some myths that need to be demolished before significant progress can be made.

  • The first is that malnutrition is about inadequate food intake. Many children in food-secure environments are underweight or stunted because of inappropriate infant feeding and care practices, poor access to health services, or poor sanitation.

  • The second myth is that improved nutrition only comes with economic progress and poverty reduction.

  • Both myths are disproved by experience in parts of India and from other countries.

What needs to be done?

  • The experience from all over the world is that food alone does not ensure better nutrition. A range of other interventions is necessary to ensure the health and nutrition of mothers and children.

  • Following a ‘life cycle’ approach, these should begin with the health of the woman before the pregnancy begins and address all the critical stages of the birth and development of the baby.

  • To make lasting improvements, interventions should go beyond the direct causes of malnutrition, diet and disease burden.

What can we do differently?

  • The combined efforts of all of them with the power of engagement with the communities who need the help most is the need of the day.

  • It is essential to ensure that the families and communities know what is at stake.

  • There is a need for evolving strategies separately for urban and rural areas

  • Three key elements should be kept in mind to make such an approach successful. These are Coordination, Convergence and Monitoring.

  • The potential for monitoring performance much more efficiently by harnessing the power of modern technology is not always realised. SMS on cell phones can provide instant updates, replacing slow paper based reporting forms. Colour coded GIS maps can pinpoint the situation on the ground, down to the nutritional status of individual children in ICDS centres, ensuring the possibilities of rapid responses.

  • The bulk of infant deaths occur in the neo-natal period of about a month after birth. Neonatology and peri-natal care have made considerable advances and if we can ensure that all health facilities handling deliveries are fully equipped and staffed by trained personnel we can bring about a sharp decline in infant deaths.

Courtesy: The Hindu