At 20.8 per cent, India is the worst in child wasting according to the recently released Global Hunger Index report that tracks hunger and malnutrition. Wasting, one of the strongest predictors of mortality among children, means low weight for height.
Jointly published by Concern Worldwide, an Irish aid agency, and Welthungerhilfe, a German NGO, the report considered four indicators to measure nutrition levels—proportion of underweight and undernourished, mortality rate, and stunted children under 5 years of age.
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There are several factors—including inadequate diet, lack of awareness, unclean water, poor sanitation, and unavailability of nutritious food—that are responsible for malnutrition in the country, and a collective effort from all stakeholders is needed to fix the problem.
Besides the steps taken by the government through welfare schemes and policies, citizens also have a crucial role to play. Here are five individuals and organisations who are fighting malnutrition in unique, innovative and effective ways:
1) Man Grows Superfood To Helps 1.5 Lakh Kids Fight Malnutrition
Malnutrition is caused when an individual has a deficiency of micronutrients like iron, iodine, Vitamin A, folate and zinc.
According to research, a single tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina powder contains proteins, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), copper, iron. It also contains some amounts of potassium, magnesium, and manganese and minimal amount of almost every other nutrient that one needs.
“One gram of spirulina every day for three months is enough to fight malnourishment,” claims Mahesh RV, a biotech engineer from Karnataka, who grows spirulina, a green superfood packed with all the micronutrients, in his backyard. He grows around 1.5 tonnes of spirulina, annually.
Mahesh has reached out to 1.5 lakh children and around 20,000 pregnant and lactating women in Karnataka in the last nine years. His organisation ‘Spirulina Foundation’ has recorded a decline in malnutrition by 58 per cent.
2) An App That Is Fighting Malnutrition in a Mumbai Slum
Founded by Aakash Ganju, Saathealth, is educating citizens about pediatric health in a Govandi slum of Mumbai.
From videos, quizzes to interactive activities, the app grants points to the users every time there is an engagement. Users can redeem the point with certain kirana stores that the organisation has tied up with. The app has been downloaded 85,000+ times so far.
“To incentivise this process, we partnered up with kirana stores and gave families offers/discounts on nutritious products based on the points they accumulate. For example, the video we put out recently was about ensuring a child gets a balanced diet with enough protein,” says Sonia Menezes, who handles communications at Saathealth.
Meanwhile, the owners of the local grocery shops are trained to measure a child’s height, weight, and other anthropometric indicators.
3) Detecting Malnutrition with Just Rs 2
Early intervention or detection of malnutrition allows health experts to correct the situation before there are any permanent repercussions.
However, not everyone can afford tests and in order to eliminate this problem, 18-year-old Muhammad Suhail CS has come out with non-evasive test that is done at just Rs 2.
It is a paper strip that works like a litmus test and if the colour changes, it is an indication that the child lacks protein and nutrients. He even came up with an app that can scan the paper to show the percentage of protein or level of malnourishment.
For his amazing invention, he recently won the prestigious Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya of Bal Puraskar (National Child Awards For Exceptional Achievement).
4) Mizoram IAS Tackles Malnutrition
Silchar is the closest place from where Lawngtlai, Mizoram’s most backward district, can source vegetables and fruits. However, the distance of 180 km between the two areas means that by the time the produce reaches Lawngtlai, it becomes unfit for consumption.
People are thus often deprived of wholesome nutritious meals, and consequently, 35 per cent of the children under five in the district are stunted and 21.3 per cent are underweight.
In a bid to solve this problem, Deputy Commissioner Shashanka Ala introduced an initiative called ‘Kan Sikul, Kan Huan’ (‘My School, My Farm’) in over 200 schools in the district. Under it, schools and anganwadis grow their own food in the school backyard and engage students in the gardening activities. They grow all colours of food like rice (white), leafy vegetables (green), carrots (red) and so on that are rich in nutrients like carbohydrates, vitamins, iron and minerals.
“These schools and anganwadis source their fruit/vegetable seeds and compost from the district administration. They can now cook their mid-day meals using the food they have grown themselves instead of waiting for a truck from Silchar or Aizawl,” says Shashanka.
5) Education Is The Key
As per the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health report, Uttar Pradesh is among the four states with the highest malnutrition levels in the country, and every second child in the state suffers from stunted growth.
Shramik Bharti, a Kanpur-based NGO, is striving towards curbing malnutrition in the state by promoting health, sanitation and nutrition. It has been working in collaboration with UNICEF on maternal, newborn health issues, and sanitation issues for more than three decades.
Breast milk within the first hour of the baby’s birth is crucial as it is a child’s first source of nutrition and immunity. But 400 families in Dhaki village prefer following the ritual of waiting for sister-in-law. Only after she washes the mother’s breast, the milk can be fed to the child.
The NGO is mobilizing the locals and educating them about the importance of breastfeeding by looping in community influencers, religious leaders, Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) motivators.
“Their job is to educate people about the link between WASH and nutrition and inform them about proper hand washing, safe disposal of children’s faeces, food hygiene, and proper feeding of children from birth to adolescence,” says Sadhana Ghosh, a Programme Manager with Shramik Bharti.
Featured Image Source: UNICEF
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)