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UNICEF official on maternal and child under nutrition in India


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.


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

February 2024