With the culmination of Poshan Maah 2021 celebration in September, the issue of malnutrition still remains critical to India. Constant and rigorous communication and action are needed to transform the practices amongst our population on this front. Hunger emerged as a primary concern during the spread of COVID-19. But we have now reached that stage where we can shift the focus to nutrition after the pandemic.
What the numbers say about nutrition
The NFHS-4 shows that one-third of children under 5 years of age are stunted. A third of them are underweight. And almost 2 out of 10 children are nutritionally wasted. Fifty-two per cent of all women in the reproductive age (15-49 years) are anaemic. This could lead to multigenerational effects on human health and development.
The Global Health Index (2021) is calculated on the basis of total undernourishment of the population, child stunting, wasting, and child mortality. It has ranked India at 101 out of 135. Countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Pakistan have been ranked higher than India at 64th, 73rd, 75th, and 88th respectively.
Nutrition after the pandemic
Malnutrition has been a major concern in India. Over the last decade, India has been working slowly to address it. The efforts to curb malnutrition got accelerated with the launch of Government of India’s Poshan Abhiyan. This was envisioned as a Jan Andolan or people’s movement, programme in 2018. However, the effect of the pandemic was felt here too. Health systems, food systems, nutrition programmes, and economy were also impacted. This posed a threat to the most vulnerable in the society. COVID-19 brought these efforts to a halt and challenged the entire system.
The coronavirus pandemic has proved to be catastrophic throughout the world. But it has had an especially negative impact on the health and well-being status of women and children in India due to major disruptions in preventive health and nutrition services. The fear of transmission of COVID-19, social distancing, and lockdowns affected public services, especially public health and nutrition, directly or indirectly. Global research in 2020 on the effect of COVID-19 estimated about 14.3 per cent increase in wasting globally. No specific data are available yet to measure the impact of COVID-19 on nutritional status of Indian population. However, we can envisage the impact of this disruption on food supply chain, health system, and broken financial and physical access to food and nutritional services.
How we have adapted
Frontline workers adapted their services to the situation, ensuring delivery of food to the people. Smile Foundation joined hands with their efforts and provided ration to hundreds of families.
Since the COVID-19 vaccine for children is still awaited, nutrition is now more important than ever. Children, pregnant women and lactating women need extra care for their nutrition during this pandemic.
Smile Foundation has been working to address and strengthen the government initiatives to support nutrition activities. We have distributed millions of meals to the vulnerable and affected families during the pandemic. These families found the first and second waves particularly difficult. ‘Build, strengthen, and expand’ is the core modality behind this nutrition programme. Our efforts are based on collaborating, enhancing reach, and impacting lives of the vulnerable population, especially women and children.
Where nutrition is concerned, it is important to concentrate on maternal nutrition as well. Thus, building knowledge of caregivers on ante-natal and post-natal care is also an important aspect of enhancing nutrition. Through such interventions, caregivers and women are informed about various aspects of health. Iron and folic acid supplementation, institutional delivery, early and exclusive breastfeeding, timely and age appropriate complementary feeding, complete immunisation are some of them,.
Interventions to ensure good nutrition after the pandemic
Government initiatives such as Poshan Maah are important interventions. However, reaching out to people at the individual level is also important. This is where Anganwadi workers play a vital role. Focusing and endorsing the activities and building capacities of beneficiaries and Anganwadi workers for behaviour change pertaining to food habits is vital for good nutrition.
It is important to realise that malnutrition is mostly preventable. All our efforts at Smile Foundation aim to improve nutritional status of mothers, infants, and young children to promote holistic and healthy development and helping them reach their full potential. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us lessons and has given a central place to health and nutrition. Nutrition is interlinked to various components of development. Smile Foundation strongly believes in constantly working to build a stronger and resilient community to address the challenges to nutrition posed by COVID-19.