Malnutrition is a rampant problem in India, especially for children in the age group of 0-6 years. This causes a variety of issues like stunting, anaemia and low birth weight, among others.
The Poshan Abhiyaan Program, of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, began in 2018 to tackle malnutrition, particularly stunting, among children in the age group of 0-6 years of age. The goal was to reduce it from 38.4% in 2018 to 25% by 2022.
So how is this going to happen? The program has various plans, schemes and systems in place, one of which are the ‘Swasth Bharat Preraks’, deployed by Tata Trusts, in collaboration with local district administrations.
The Preraks not only help fast-track the roll-out of the government’s various interventions, but they also track on-ground issues that plague such social programmes, and to provide workable solutions based on their experience.
We, at the Better India, spoke to Dr Sankar, Program Director, Nutrition at Tata Trusts, and a Swasth Bharat Prerak Dipesh Suvarna, State Lead Maharashtra, to get the real behind-the-scenes look of one of the most ambitious nutrition projects in the world.
Question: What is the team doing to reduce malnourishment in India?
Dr Sankar: Malnutrition is the biggest cause of deaths of children under five, accounting for nearly 45% of all deaths.
Nearly 40% of Indian children are stunted in growth, leading to a lifelong impact on cognition and productivity. About 70% of all children below the age of five are anaemic.
Therefore, tackling malnutrition is a significant focus for the Tata Trusts.
The Trusts are helping the Govt augment the capacity of existing schemes like the ‘Integrated Child Development Services’ (ICDS).
To address the challenge of micronutrient deficiencies, they are looking at the fortification of staple foods such as flour, rice, salt, oil, and milk.
The Trusts are helping public and private stakeholders to fortify products, following the ‘+ F’ formula approved by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
Q: So how do you Preraks fast-track government interventions?
Suvarna: Preraks act as catalysts in the POSHAN Abhiyan. One Prerak in each district coordinates the various activities and interventions of the Poshan Abhiyaan conducted in the district, including the development of a district level action plan which converges the various services aimed for mothers and children.
Similarly, a state-level Prerak will not only monitor the District Leads but will also provide high-level inputs at the state-level to come up with a state-level action plan and various other elements of the Poshan Abhiyaan.
More than 10 crore people will be benefitted through this initiative.
Basically, it maps various schemes that fight against malnutrition while also introducing a robust convergence mechanism to help them work in tandem.
Other activities the initiative takes up is ICT-based Real-Time Monitoring, incentivizing States/UTs for meeting targets, incentivizing Anganwadi Workers (AWWs) for using IT-based tools, eliminating registers used by AWWs, introducing measurement of height of children at the Anganwadi Centers (AWCs), social audits and the setting-up Nutrition Resource Centers.
All of these also involve the masses directly, through ‘Jan Andolans’, increasing their participation in nutrition-related activities.
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Q: What are your biggest challenges on the ground?
Suvarna: Given the criticality of nutrition security and its positive effects on public health and economy, it is essential to educate cooperatives, private companies and people about the consumption of fortified food.
But that also our biggest challenge, as it is hugely time-consuming to get communities to understand and accept the benefits of fortification.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)