A versatile workforce
Anganwadi didis have been pivotal in combatting the menace of malnutrition, selflessly driving the government’s POSHAN Abyhyaan towards its successful implementation
It's not just Swachh Bharat that's positioning itself firmly on people's minds. Slowly but steadily, the next big Jan Andolan, the POSHAN Andolan is also taking shape in India. In the latest episode of "Man Ki Baat," on August 25, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke extensively about Poshan.
A movement against the gigantic problem of undernutrition was long due in India. Let's take a look at the startling figures. As many as 38.4 per cent children are stunted (low height for age), 35.7 per cent children are underweight (low weight for age), 21 per cent children are wasted (low weight for height), 53 per cent women in the age of 15-40 years are anaemic, and 22.9 per cent women have low Body Mass Index. So consequences of any further delay in attention on this would have been disastrous.
Nutrition constitutes the foundation for human development. It reduces susceptibility to infections, related morbidity, disability and mortality burden. Proper nutrition enhances cumulative lifelong learning capacities and adult productivity.
Nutrition is critical to the physical and cognitive development of children as well as women's health. Undernutrition, anaemia and stunting are underlying causes behind half of under-five children mortality and one-fifth of maternal mortality in India. Undernutrition also has a serious bearing on learning outcomes in children and productivity in adults.
To generate a mass movement for a Kuposhan Mukt Bharat – free from malnutrition, across the life cycle, the government of India had launched POSHAN Abyhyaan on March 8, 2018. The government also provided a massive budgetary commitment of Rs 9046.17 crores for the Abhiyaan.
A big challenge like this can only be tackled with high goals. Thus, ambitious targets of reducing stunting by 2 per cent, anaemia by 3 per cent and low birth weight by 2 per cent every year for three years were set for the mission. These targets are formidable given the history that maternal and child undernutrition in India has persisted despite a slew of government schemes and programmes.
Data shows that Stunting had just decreased by just 1 per cent annually between 2005-06 and 2014-15, while underweight prevalence went down by a mere 0.68 per cent annually. Surprisingly, Wasting, on the other hand, went up slightly by 1.8 per cent during this period.
To reverse the trend and achieve the dream of a Kuposhan Mukt Bharat, Prime Minister gave the call to make it a "Jan-Andolan". This meant taking the message of nutrition to every household and involving every person in the fight against malnutrition.
There has already been a series of intensive efforts to build the Jan-Andolan against malnutrition at the village, block, district, and state levels. However, the real battle on the ground is being fought by our 14 lakh foot soldiers, the Anganwadi didis.
Anganwadi didis get a meagre amount of Rs 4,500 per month as honorarium by the Centre. Many states also pay an additional honorarium to them. However, the motivation of these foot soldiers lies in their burning desire to do something for the community as against any monetary benefit.
The list of duties that Anganwadi didis perform is humongous. For pregnant women and lactating mothers, they provide supplementary nutrition or take home ration, nutrition and health education, and test them for anaemia.
They also facilitate health check-ups and referral services and provide counselling on early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding, family planning and balanced diet, hygiene and sanitation.
Duties of Anganwadi didis also include looking after children of 0 to 6 years of age. They provide them early childhood education, supplementary nutrition, iron and folic supplementation, and deworming. They also monitor their growth, help in managing diarrhoea, and teach them handwashing and hygiene.
Anganwadi didis are true friends of adolescent girls, who come to them with the various problems they encounter. They also provide them with counselling on health and nutrition and also provide them with supplementary nutrition.
With POSHAN Abhiyan, they have now been equipped with smartphones and tablets. Their capacity has also been enhanced through training on 21 specially designed modules. Anganwadis have also been provided with growth monitoring devices, teaching and learning material and Flexi-fund.
The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development recently organised an award function to recognise the contribution of Anganwadi didis. 237 Anganwadi didis and other foot soldiers were felicitated at the function for their exceptional contribution to the fight against malnutrition.
Recently in Mann ki Baat, Prime Minister also talked about some of these initiatives like 'Mutthi Bhar Dhaanya' in Nashik district in Maharashtra, where Anganwadi didis go house to house to collect food grains from people during the harvest period and use them to feed women and children at Anganwadis.
"Ann-Praashan Sanskar" is another such initiative being pioneered by Anganwadi didis to celebrate the first morsel of supplementary food for a child. Such celebrations have spread awareness about the importance of supplementary nutrition among the masses.
"Tithi-Bhojan" or the meal campaign is one more innovative concept pioneered by Anganwadi didis. It is a wonderful confluence of a sense of service and satisfaction where people carry food to Anganwadis and celebrate their birthdays, other auspicious days with the children in Anganwadis.
Anganwadi didis with other foot soldiers of the health department, namely ANMs and ASHA workers are mobilising the community through community-based events like prabhat-pheris, suposhan-rallies, suposhan-chaupals, and Village Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Days (VHNDs).
Our Anganwadi didis have integrated social festivals and family festivals like "God Bharai" with nutrition. Anganwadi centres are now buzzing with a plethora of activities like cooking competition, parent meets, mehndi competitions, and drawing competitions.
One should not be surprised to see vegetable gardens at the Anganwadis, producing nutritious fresh vegetables. They add value to the food being served at the Anganwadis.
Our Anganwadi didis are playing a key role in generating awareness and taking the message of nutrition to every household. The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development has recently launched a campaign to thank our Anganwadi didis. A film showing the contribution of Anganwadi didis in protecting and promoting the health of women and children was also released on the occasion.
It is high time that each one of us recognises the contribution of our Anganwadi didis. They need to be thanked for their efforts to bring the country out of the circle of malnutrition and in building a strong and healthy India – securing the future of the country.
Let's join the movement and visit our foot soldiers at Anganwadi centres. Let's have selfies with them and recognise their selfless service. Let's say in one voice, #thankyouAnganwadiDidi.
(The author is a senior IAS officer, Mission Director, Rashtriya POSHAN Abhiyaan & Joint Secretary, Ministry of Women & Child Development. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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