Scaling up the drive
India has scaled remarkable developments in the past decades and has accomplished the feat of having a 50 per cent increase in the GDP since 1991. But, in spite of such an achievement, it is as much the reality of India that more than one third of the world's malnourished children live here. About half of these children under the age of three years old are underweight. In contrast to this, one-third of the wealthiest children happen to be over-nutriented. It has been established time and again that a major cause of malnutrition in this country is economic inequality. Social status of groups of people affects their diet in terms of both quality and quantity. Women suffering from malnutrition are less likely to have healthy babies. This very information contains the means to resolve this serious problem impeding India's prosperity. Researches have concluded that malnutrition at the time of pregnancy causes the child to have increased risk of future diseases, physical retardation, and reduced cognitive abilities. On the Global Hunger Index, India stands 67 among the 80 nations having the worst hunger situation which is worse than nations such as North Korea or Sudan. 25 per cent of all hungry people worldwide live in India. Decades following 90's have seen some improvement for children but the proportion of hungry in the population has only increased. 44 per cent children under age 5 are underweight, 72 per cent of infants and 52 per cent of married women are anaemic—indicating nutritional deficiency that is shown to have an impact beyond one's bodily functions and has affected societies and their economic statuses. The vicious cycle of malnutrition begins with a malnourished mother, making her unborn child more susceptible to the dangers of nutritional deficiency and permanent disorders as the lack of proper nutrition among children affects not only the physical development of the child growing into adulthood but also affects brain development. Numerous reports published over the last one month—Global Hunger Index, UNICEF'S State Of the World's Children etc., have highlighted the crisis of Malnutrition in India. Considering the recently published Global Hunger Index 2019 or the UNICEF's State of the World's Children report, the highlighted fact remains the same: India's unaddressed issue of malnutrition. The 2019 Global Hunger Index used four indicators (calorie inadequacy, stunting, wasting and under 5 mortality rate) to compute the burden of hunger for the score; however, all the four indicators are interrelated and confounding. Calorie inadequacy may manifest as stunting and wasting, and children with undernutrition (stunting and wasting) may have higher frequency of disease burden and mortality. While GHI comprehensively tracks and measures hunger across the world, the State of the World's Children, on the other hand, has taken the Comprehensive Nutritional Survey into account to conclude that malnutrition is behind 63 per cent of deaths of children below the age of five in India. These reports followed after India observed the month of September as Poshan Maah under the Poshan Abhiyan. The Poshan Abhiyan has set the timeline of 2018-2022 to reduce child under-nutrition (stunting and underweight) and low birth weight by 2 per cent a year, and anaemia across age groups by 3 per cent a year, and create a mass movement for achieving a malnutrition-free India by 2022. As far as official records are concerned in India, the available national data for stunting, wasting and dietary intakes are from NFHS4 (2015-16) and NSSO (2011-12), which are relatively old and may arguably not represent the current nutrition situation in India. Hence, any computation from these data may not present a true and accurate picture.
Acknowledging the gravity of the reality of malnutrition in India, the government has stepped up its efforts and roped in international support to address this concern more effectively. In a launch of fresh set of initiatives, Minister of Women and Child Development and Textiles, Smriti Irani, and Bill Gates, co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation introduced the Bharatiya Poshan Krishi Kosh (BPKK). The BPKK will be a repository of diverse crops across 128 agro-climatic zones in India for better nutritional outcomes. The aim of this nutrition programme is to promote and reinforce healthy dietary practices both at the individual and community level and tackle malnutrition in a sustainable manner, and reduce malnutrition among women and children across the country through a multi-sectoral results-based framework including agriculture. In the effort to make India nutrition secure, a five-point action programme to be implemented will ensure a calorie-rich diet for women, expectant mothers, and children; intake of proteins in the form of pulses to eradicate protein hunger in women and children; eradication of hidden hunger due to deficiency of micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin B, iron, and zinc; clean drinking water supply; spreading nutrition literacy in every village, particularly in mothers with children less than 100 days old. In this multi-faceted challenge to create a sustained nutritional programme to curb malnutrition in the country, Bill Gates' foundation collaborating with the government of India to make this intent a reality is also a matter to ponder over as the international image of India as also a country of poor, hungry, naked children living shanty towns will only gain more affirmation. The government must realise initiatives to scale up food security as this is the most basic means to ensure the availability of a variety of food and thereby address malnutrition more effectively. Subsequently, concerted efforts to ensure that expecting mothers adequately consume necessary nutrients will go a long way in ensuring that malnutrition is minimised. From the perspective of continued nourishment of children, mid-day meals is an apt scheme but ensuring its effective implementation will depend on the abundance and variety of food available. With consistent conscious efforts, malnutrition can absolutely become history in India.