- COVID-19 has disrupted immunisation and delivery of nutritional supplements
- India’s children are more vulnerable to malnutrition than ever due to COVID
- Children were not able to access immunisation services during lockdown: CRY
New Delhi: “Though, children are not reported to be infected by COVID-19 in large numbers as yet, the pandemic has directly impacted child survival, health and nutrition significantly due to the breakdown in economic machinery worldwide,” says Soha Moitra, Regional Director of Child Rights and You (CRY), a non-profit organisation. She further says that the ongoing pandemic has completely disrupted immunisation services and delivery of nutritional supplements within few months, making children more vulnerable to other preventable diseases and malnutrition.
CRY has been working across the country to help children meet their nutritional needs to improve India’s malnutrition status. Here are some on-ground stories of young children and their parents dealing with the nutrition crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A 2-Year-Old From Uttar Pradesh Struggles For Survival
Abhilash (name changed), a resident of Puari Khurd village in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh is struggling for his life amidst the pandemic.
Abhilash will turn 2- year- old in two months, but he is so weak that he is unable to move on his own in the bed. He is a severely malnourished child and weighs barely 6.4 kgs; which is considered as extremely poor for a child who is 1 year and 10 months old.
Abhilash’s mother 36-year-old Mana Devi (name changed) got married at the age of 16 and delivered her first child when she was barely 18.
Due to lack of education, the couple lacked awareness about family planning and thus they had six children, each of these children struggled for proper nutrition. Their youngest child, Abhilash’s condition is the worst among all six children.
He is so weak that one can barely hear his voice and his vision is so weak that he is unable to see in the dark. Unlike, normal children of his age, he is unable to stand and mostly spreads his time lying in the bed. Mana said,
When Abhilash was born in a Primary Health Centre of Harhua block, he was completely normal. His condition started deteriorating after the pandemic hit the country. His father, sole bread-winner of the house, used to work as a labourer at construction site. However, he lost his work and we had no money or food to survive after the nationwide lockdown was announced.
She further said that Abhilash couldn’t get proper diet as there were days when the entire family had to starve.
The distribution of ‘Poshan Aahar’ was also halted in the village due to the lockdown and the ration which is being provided by government is not sufficient for survival of the entire family for a month, a spokesperson from CRY informed NDTV.
CRY’s partner organization Jan Mitra Nyas came to know about Abhilash’s condition and provided assistance to the family. However, his situation is still concerning and the family needs immediate assistance, as per the organisation.
Madhya Pradesh’s Anita And Her Newborn Fight To Avoid Malnutrition
Twenty-six-year-old, Anita Adivasi (name changed), lives in Machakhurd village of Pohari block in Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh.
Anita gave birth to her second child at Community Health Centre (CHC) of Pohri exactly a month before the nationwide lockdown was announced in the country.
Anita and her husband Brajesh Adivasi both used to work as a labourer, however, Anita had to stop working after she delivered her second child in February, this year. Her first child is 3-year-old and second has just turned 6 months old.
The ongoing pandemic has left Anita’s entire family shattered.
She and her newborn child couldn’t get proper medical attention which was much needed after the delivery. She couldn’t get her Post Natal Check Up done, as ASHA worker visited her village due to the pandemic, even the immunisation of the newborn started recently, which should have ideally started as soon as the baby completed his first month, a spokesperson from CRY told NDTV.
My child weighed 2.7 kg at the time of delivery and it was a normal delivery. But during his birth, the hospital staff as well as my family were both afraid of COVID-19. So I was discharged from the CHC, within 24 hours of the delivery. The first vaccination of my newborn child was done in the month of June and second in July, Anita said.
As Anita and her husband Brajesh, both are not getting any work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is getting tough for the family to even manage a nutritious diet for their two children.
Even though Brajesh has a ration card, he didn’t have a coupon needed to get the ration. After advocacy of CRY’s partner organisation Vikas Samavad Samiti, the family received 10 kg wheat.
Meanwhile, the struggle for the family continues as there is no source of earning and the savings is also on the verge of running out. Recently, when Anita’s elder son fell ill, the family approached a local quack for treatment who took Rs 50 for the treatment.
I had Rs 200 in my savings and now I am left with only Rs 150. I don’t know how my family is going to survive. What am I going to feed to my children in coming days, said Anita.
Some help is being provided by Vikas Samvad Samiti to save the child from the trap of malnutrition.
Recently, after the organisation’s advocacy, the newborn was provided with Rs 1,400 under Janani Suraksha Yojana and they are also being linked with poultry farming and kitchen garden programme of CRY.
Janani Suraksha Yojana is a motherhood intervention programme under the Nation Health Mission, that aims to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality. This is a centrally sponsored scheme, which integrates cash assistance with delivery and post-delivery care, and ASHA workers are the ones who can link beneficiaries to this programme.
On the other hand, Poultry and kitchen farming programmes trains the beneficiaries to gain the maximum benefits out of the exercise to sustain themselves as well as convert it into an income.
Rajasthan’s Sanju Rawat Has To Struggle To Put Food On The Plates Of His Malnourished Children
For 28-year-old Sanju Rawat, protecting his family, especially his malnourished children, in this ongoing pandemic has become a major challenge.
A resident of Teetana ki Dhani village in Ajmer district of Rajasthan, Sanju has two children – a daughter and a son. However, lack of food and no work during pandemic has made both these children, 4-year-old Prem and 2-year-old Preeta vulnerable to malnutrition.
Both the children are severely underweight, Prem weighs 9.9 kg, while Preeta weighs 7 kg which is considerably low for their age, a spokesperson from CRY informed NDTV.
Despite being 4-year-old, Prem is unable to speak a single word. Persistence of malnutrition for more than a year has put an adverse effect ON of his mental health, while, Preeta’s condition is also equally poor.
Sanju used to work as a daily labour before the pandemic hit the country and he is the only earning member of the family. When the nationwide lockdown was announced to control the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanju didn’t get any work for 3 months in a row.
He was left with neither money nor ration at his home and as a result, family had to starve for food for days.
I didn’t have anything nutritious to feed my malnourished children, which made their condition even worse. We have a goat but its milk was not sufficient for both the kids, thus, we used to mix water in it to make it sufficient for both the children.
CRY’s local partner MJAS did advocacy for the family at district level after which they were provided with 10 kg of dry ration by the local administration.
Apart from that the organisation also provided ration for two months to the family. Condition of children has slightly improved however, a lot has to be done for their long-term mental and physical development, the spokesperson from CRY said.
As CRY shared these stories with NDTV, Ms Moitra said that the impact of COVID-19 is different for everyone, even among children; with the access to health care facilities and nutritional meals being difficult for the poor and vulnerable children. She said,
While working closely with children during the pandemic in the above-mentioned states (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan) where malnutrition is already a major challenge, we have realised that the reduced household income has forced poor families to compromise on essential health and food expenditures. The issue of food security that has arisen from the phenomenon of people losing their livelihoods has affected children the most. Lack of availability of food isn’t just causing hunger, it’s also leading to malnutrition and are adversely effecting a child’s over all development.
A Rapid Online Survey conducted by CRY during the COVID-19 lockdown revealed that nearly 50 per cent of the parents with children below five years of age, were not able to access immunisation services.
The survey was conducted through a questionnaire with around 30 simple questions, in five languages – English, Hindi, Bangla, Kannada, and Marathi.
The data was collected between April 10 and 20, 2020 on Social Media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages of CRY.
The survey was further circulated when people shared the links in their social groups in both rural and urban settings via WhatsApp and other virtual social mediums, says the report.
The questionnaire received 1102 responses, of which 58 per cent were from men and the rest 42 per cent from women, belonging to 23 states and UT’s of India.
This figure was highest in Northern states, with 63 per cent of the surveyed households in these states reported the lack of access to immunisation services. It seems the disruptions in maternal and child health facilities, immunisation and supply of nutritional supplement would effectively reverse the last 2 to 3 years of progress in reducing infant mortality within a single year, Ms Moitra explains.
As the pandemic hit the country, Ms Moitra says that CRY’s first priority was to immediately reach children with relief material.
We, along with our partners have provided dry rations, health and hygiene materials, and educational support (workbooks and play materials) to 53,907 underprivileged households, serving 1,13,935 children (55,145 girls and 58,790 boys) so far. We are also strengthening our Community-Based Malnutrition Management Programme. Under the programme, we are providing support to the affected families to develop kitchen garden and are also encouraging poultry farming. Lastly, COVID pandemic has taught us how important it is to allocate adequate budget for public health, and it holds true for child healthcare as well. To be precise, child healthcare should be given more priority in terms of budgetary provisions, now more than ever, Ms Moitra said.
What About The Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan Scheme?
As India entered the day 2 of the COVID-19 lockdown, concerns for the well-being of daily wage workers among other underprivileged people were echoing from all walks of life. On March 26, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a Rs 1.7 lakh-crore scheme, titled ‘Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan scheme’ to address the concerns of poor, migrant workers and those who need help.
The poor and the needy will get 5 kg additional wheat and rice, free of cost for the next there months over and above what they are entitled under the National Food Security Act. They will also get 1 kg pulses free for the next three months, the FM Sitharaman said.
She further ensured that “no one will go hungry” due to COVID-19.
However, as far as the on-ground reality goes, Ms Moitra said,
Though Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana has the provision of free ration, every household has other necessary expenditures as well like vegetables, edible oil, etc. Moreover, it has been observed that the quantity of ration being provided to the families is not sufficient to fulfil the needs of the entire family. It gets worse for the families that do not even have ration cards.
Additionally, she says, that the issue of food security that has arisen from the phenomenon of people losing their livelihoods has affected children the most. Ms Moitra said,
Lack of availability of food isn’t just causing hunger, it’s also leading to malnutrition and the resulting physiological, intellectual and emotional deficits at that age are often felt life-long. The matter has become worse after the closure of Anganwadi Centres, Schools and ICDS which has led to not reaching of MDM for school children and also Take Home Ration (THR) for children and pregnant lactating mothers. This has made children more vulnerable to malnutrition.
Poshan Month 2020
Every year, the month of September is celebrated as ‘Poshan Maah’ (National Nutrition Month) to raise awareness about the importance of nutrition in India.
India is one of the world’s largest producer of food items like milk, pulses, and ranks as the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnut, vegetables, fruit and cotton, as per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Despite the status, 14 per cent of India population is undernourished, according to ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020’ report.
The report states 189.2 million people are undernourished in India and 34.7 per cent of the children aged under five in India are stunted (too short for their age). It further reports that 20 per cent on of India’s children under the age of 5, suffer from wasting, meaning their weight is too low for their height. And the crisis of coronavirus has further worsened these conditions and India’s poor and hungry are being affected the most, the study highlights.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.