Programs to Combat Malnutrition in India
This article was originally drafted by the Strategic Foresight Group for the newsletter “Asian Horizons” as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Searchlight Process. For more Searchlight content on futurechallenges.org, please click here.
High levels of malnutrition, especially amongst women and children, are a source of concern in India. Many initiatives in the recent years have focused on this problem, in particular at the local level. In the next few years, if these programs are successful, they may result in better health indicators amongst the poor in the country.
Many programs have been initiated by the government. One early example is the Marathwada Initiative in the state of Maharashtra. Started as the Rajamata Jijau Mother-Child Health and Nutrition Mission in 2002 in Aurangabad district, the program focused on sharpening and making the existing Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) more effective. By 2005, the Initiative had succeeded in bringing down the rate of severe malnutrition in Maharashtra by 90%. Under the Initiative, children are given regular check-ups and mothers are given nutrition lessons and supplements at child treatment centers (CTCs). Mothers who lose wages to bring their children to the CTC are compensated monetarily as an incentive. The success of the initiative has led the Maharashtra State government to replicate it across the state under the name Marathwada Initiative. It has also inspired similar efforts in states like Bihar and Karnataka.
Children eating kheer and puri (sweet milk rice and deep-fried dough), Chambal, India. By Yann (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
In 2007, the Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India was set up. It is a coalition of policymakers, government agencies, NGOs, private sector organizations and academics. Under the Coalition, two taskforces have been formed: Overcoming the Curse of Malnutrition in India and Essential Interventions for Reducing Malnutrition in Infant and Young Children in India. Most of the coalition’s objectives are aimed at interventions at the local (panchayat or district) level. They also combine the goals of women and children’s nutrition to achieve optimum results. The Coalition works with various partners to enact programs and advises government policies regarding malnutrition.
International NGOs have also enacted programs in India. The Real Medicine Foundation (RMF), a Los Angeles-based nonprofit operates the Malnutrition Eradication Program in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh (MP). The primary goal is to reduce the prevalence of underweight children aged less than 5 and prevent malnutrition-related deaths among children. RMF had an initial program in 5 of the worst-hit districts in MP where local women were trained to act as Community Nutrition Educators. As a result of the success of this program, in January 2011, RMF created a new pilot program in partnership with Department of Women and Child Development and the Madhya Pradesh Technical Assistance Support Team (MPTAST) with support from UK’s Department for International Development and Action Against Hunger, a global humanitarian organization. This pilot will educate anganwadi workers (members of the ICDS) to provide high quality health and nutrition education to the community and mobilize them to recognize the signs of malnutrition.
The Nehru Yuva Kendra Sanghtan (NYKS), a body that runs various health related initiatives created by the government and NGOs through youth volunteers under the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, is working on the Universal Salt Iodization Program. Through this program, over 200 young people are working in 6 districts of Rajasthan to create awareness about the nutritional benefits of iodized salt amongst the community, including with salt producers and traders. NYKS runs this program in partnership with UNICEF.
Baiga women and children, India. By Simon Williams / Ekta Parishad (Ekta Parishad) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
In the past few decades, numerous schemes have aimed at increasing food security amongst the poor in India. However, many of these programs were unsuccessful in reducing malnutrition amongst the population. Recent programs have increasingly focused on specifically alleviating malnutrition, especially amongst children. With the success of various programs, health indicators of certain districts and states have witnessed an improvement. It is likely that these efforts will grow and expand in the coming years, especially due to the interest shown by various players including local governments, NGOs, international organizations and the private sector. The increasing media coverage and public awareness of malnutrition in India may also become a factor contributing to renewed efforts in the next few years. Bodies, such as the Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India, that have access to and advise a number of players including central and state governments, are also likely to aid the growth such programs.