- India’s nutrition wasn’t great even before coronavirus pandemic: Experts
- During COVID times, food insecurity has worsened India’s overall nutrition
- Children are at the receiving end of the COVID pandemic, feel the experts
New Delhi: India with a population of 1.3 billion is currently fighting the dual battle – one against coronavirus pandemic and second against undernutrition. According to a Lancet report, which studied the 17 year trend in terms of nutrition in India, 68 per cent of the under-five deaths and 83 per cent of the neonatal deaths in the country are still caused due to poor child nutrition and maternal health. Experts think coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation for India and now it is no more just a fight against coronavirus but also a crisis in terms of undernutrition and malnutrition.
Voices From The Ground: How Coronavirus Has Affected Lives Of Children
Sharing the plight of the undernutrition among children, Aarti Hasda from one of the zillas from Jharkhand said,
Getting good nutritious food is always a challenge for poor people. But coronavirus crisis have made it worse for us. I have two children – one is three and a half years old and the other one is 5 months old. Before coronavirus, my elder child used to get at least one nutritious meal at the anganwadi centre and my 5 months old used to get proper vaccination. But since the pandemic has struck and services have been disturbed, both my children are left without proper nutrition and immunisation. I have seen both my children shedding weight drastically in six months time. There was a time, both of them were so unwell because of lack of food that we had to take them to the hospital. They are still very weak and it is very very hard to see them like that..
From Ramsai Village, Jharkhand, Pooja Hasda who lives with her husband and has two children added,
Because of the lockdown and as everything was shut there was a time when our family didn’t get food for days. Both my children suffered a lot as they are at that age when nutrition and food requirement is at its maximum. Since access to food was an issue, both my children fell ill, even to get them admitted to the hospital, it was a challenging task. Before coronavirus, as anganwadi centres were open, at least nutritional needs of both my children were met. In these six months, if pandemic had not taken place, both my children would have grown a bit taller and healthy – as they are in their growing age. But in these months, I have only seen them getting weaker and weaker. It is a thing to worry and both me and my husband are trying to figure out how we can help our children out.
Shedding light on coronavirus outbreak in India and how underprivileged people are the most affected ones from the crisis, especially the children, C.P Yadav, Community Development Officer for Livelihood Programme and Food Security and Secretary Lohardaga Gram Swarajya Sansthan from Jharkhand added,
Lockdown happened in India from March 24 – it was all of a sudden and nobody knew about it, nor India and its people were prepared. Though lockdown was needed to fight the pandemic but in terms of nutrition and health, its effect is vast, especially on our children and expecting or new mothers.
Giving examples of Jharkhand and how lockdown affected the nutrition, Mr Yadav said,
First few months – anganwadi centres were entirely closed in the country due to coronavirus, so whatever nutrition a child used to get by having one meal at the centre, they didn’t get it at all as mostly the children come from a background where they are not able to afford such a meal and in coronavirus time as services were closed their family also faced difficulties. Secondly, when the order came from the government that the nutrition meals will be given to the beneficiaries in terms of dry ration at their home that also suffered a loss as due to COVID-19 and its fear not many anganwadi workers were okay going to each and everyone’s house nor were people welcoming the ones who were going door-to-door to serve these amenities. Thirdly, what nutrition a child used to get by having a meal at anganwadi centre every day can never be matched to what he gets in terms of dry ration at home in a months’ time. For example, we all can calculate, if at centre, children are getting 100 grams of sooji a day along with gudh and pulses to name a few, that cannot be matched with 1 kg of pulses along with other items which is now given to the child’s family through take home ration . The child will not have this on his own, obviously during this time, this will be shared by the whole family, so we can imagine how small a portion of nutrition is going to the child in need.
COVID-19 And Its Impact On Child Nutrition: Experts View
Dr. Jatinder Bir Singh, Head, MEAL, Save the Children talking about the two rapid need surveys done by the organisation to understand the impact of COVID on nutrition oF families and children said that the survey was done in 14 states and 2 Union Territories of India with more than 7,000 respondents and it found crucial insights that coronavirus has caused a huge impact on nutrition in India over the past few months.
Through our two surveys, we found that though COVID-19 awareness and social distancing norms were being followed well in the rural households, the two biggest challenge for the houses in the times of coronavirus were cash for day to day activities and food supplies. As the poor households have limited livelihood opportunities, in coronavirus circumstances this has gotten worse which in a way is affecting the nutrition and food intake of the families. As per the survey, it was noted that one in every three households did not receive their take home ration (THR) during the time of pandemic, close to two-fifth of the household reported that their children are not receiving mid-day-meal and are therefore becoming weak. And close to one out of five households did not receive ration under the public distribution scheme by the government.
Highlighting the challenges of food insecurity and disrupted services oF malnutrition, much before coronavirus pandemic took place, Dr. Antaryami Dash, Head, Nutrition, Save the Children said,
Much-much before coronavirus time, in 1992, the average food deficit in kilocalories per person per day in India was 165, as per the Food and Agriculture Organisation. After 24 years, in 2016, India’s food deficit reduced from 165 to 109, whereas the world reduced it from 172 to 88. These figures highlight a grim reality – it shows while the other countries managed to bring down the food deficit substantially, India somehow has not managed to bring down the deficit well. Food deficit is the proxy indicator which talks about how much additional kilocalories a nation needs to uplift the undernourished population. The high deficit for any country is not good.
Sharing an example of a Delhi Slum which is very near to the posh area of Vasant Vihar in South Delhi, Mr Dash said,
In one of the surveys in Feb 2020, we found that in that slum area about 30.7 per cent children were undernourished, there was about 14.6 per cent children who were wasted and about 44.5 per cent were stunted. So, in the national capital of Delhi, just before coronavirus when we can see such figures then we all can imagine the state in the rest of the country.
Mr Dash said that through the examples and statistics shared by him he wants to highlight the point that India’s pre-COVID status was already bad in terms of nutrition and since the pandemic has struck, it has worsened. He adds,
We know the pandemic has disturbed the services and livelihood, we can very well say that coronavirus will have a long term impact on India’s nutrition. If we look at the current scenario, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, somewhere around 235 million people in India are having insufficient food intake. As per the statistics, due to COVID, since the schools are shut, approximately 90 million children are missing out on meals at school in India, which is considered by these household the most nutritious meal. So, where are we going ahead with such statistics?
Stressing on the solutions that India should work on when it comes to fighting the battle of nutrition in this crisis especially, Dr. Abner Daniel, Nutrition Specialist, UNICEF said,
We need an integrated management of children who are severely malnourished, what do I mean by integrated management is that we need to work in a 360 degree when it comes to nutrition. We need to ensure delivery of maternal nutrition through take home rations and other schemes, secondly, we need to reduce instances of low birth weight babies. The focus should be on strengthening the schemes and programmes in the nutrition areas and making sure progress is made.
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.
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