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UNICEF official on maternal and child under nutrition in India

Context:

Head, Nutrition, UNICEF India talked about how high levels of maternal and child under nutrition continue to plague India, and the impact COVID-19 has had on the gains India has made in economic and human development in recent decades.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Issues related to Health, Issues related to Women and Children)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Highlights of what the UNICEF official said
  2. Impact of COVID-19 on Nutrition Standards
  3. Way Forward

Highlights of what the UNICEF official said

  • The head of nutrition, UNICEF, COVID-19 has heightened the risk of increasing malnutrition.
  • While India has made impressive gains in economic and human development in recent decades, high levels of maternal and child undernutrition continue to plague the country.
  • The future of children in India, controlling COVID-19 and ending malnutrition are equally important and urgent.

Prevalence of malnutrition in India

  • The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) and National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS), show that about one-third of children under five years of age in India are stunted. Also, one-third of children under 5 years of age are underweight and almost two out of 10 children are nutritionally wasted.
  • Many of the children suffer from multiple anthropometric deficits.
  • The CNNS also highlights the emerging problems of overweight, obesity and micro-nutrient deficiencies.

Impact of COVID-19 on Nutrition Standards

  • Health and social services, such as anganwadi centres, nutrition rehabilitation centres, and village health sanitation and nutrition days (VHSND), were disrupted.
  • The distribution of iron and folic acid tablets to children in schools was significantly reduced, and awareness campaigns in schools on nutrition were suspended.
  • The launch of the Poshan Abhiyan in March 2018 refocused the national development agenda on nutrition. However, with the pandemic, there is a heightened risk of increasing malnutrition, and parts of progress made in the past may get undone.
  • As the period of pandemic prolongs, food insecurities and nutritional challenges will intensify too.
  • Food insecurity arising out of the pandemic may cause families to shift to cheap food with low nutritive value, causing long-term adverse impacts on the cognitive development of children.
  • COVID-19 related priorities could threaten the delivery and financing of nutrition and nutrition security responses.

Way Forward

  • Strong leadership at all levels, from national to the district is essential to bring back focus to address food, income and nutritional security.
  • Uninterrupted, universal, timely and high-quality coverage of essential evidence-based nutritional services must be ensured, with a special focus on children below two years of age, pregnant women and adolescent girls, which are critical development periods.
  • Pandemic calls for strategies adapting to COVID-19 guidelines and innovations in the service delivery mechanism.
  • Adequate financing is needed to ensure the delivery of high-impact interventions, and additional financing will be required for ensuring food and nutritional security, especially for the vulnerable population groups.
  • Multisectoral interventions that directly or indirectly impact nutrition like health, nutrition and social protection schemes need to be delivered effectively. Migrant labourers and urban poor need special focus.
  • Nutrition needs to be retained as a key indicator for development.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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