In a rare and strange response on a social issue, Prime Minister Manmohan Sing has expressed his government’s deep concern over malnutrition in India. After being in power for 6 decades, the ruling party Congress, was least bothered on these issues, but ahead of polls in 5 states, the ‘Aam-Admi’ mantra is back. Here is a media report.-Editor

Malnourishment a national shame

NEW DELHI: Calling malnourishment “a national shame”, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said India cannot hope for a healthy future with 42% of children aged below five years being underweight.

Releasing the Hungama survey that measured the nutrition status of more than one lakh children and 74,000 mothers, Singh said, “What concerns me and what must concern all enlightened citizens is that 42% of our children are still underweight. This is an unacceptably high occurrence.”

There are nearly 16 crore children in India below the age of six years. According to Singh, the health of the economy and society lies in the health of “this generation”.

“In the years to come, these children will join our workforce as scientists, farmers, teachers, data operators, artisans and service providers. We cannot hope for a healthy future for our country with a large number of malnourished children,” Singh said.

The results of this survey are both worrying and encouraging, according to Singh. “The survey reports high levels of malnutrition, despite impressive growth in our GDP. But it also indicates that one child in five has reached an acceptable healthy weight during the last seven years in 100 focus districts. This 20% decline in malnourishment is better than the rate of decline reported in National Family Health Survey 3,” Singh said.

Reacting to the findings, Member of Parliament Sachin Pilot said, “MPs might differ on various counts but when it comes to malnutrition, we have all cut through party lines to fight for a common apolitical cause. Small interventions like providing iodized salt or enhancing breast feeding rates can change malnutrition and maternal health figures. Malnutrition according to me begins in the womb of a mother who is not given adequate nutrition.”

The PM was also candid in saying that the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which continues to be the government’s most important tool to fight malnutrition, can no longer be relied on solely.

“We need to focus on districts where malnutrition levels are high and where conditions causing malnutrition prevail. Policy makers need to clearly understand many linkages — between education and health, between sanitation and hygiene, between drinking water and nutrition – and then shape their responses accordingly,” he said.

Singh said a multi-sectoral programme to combat malnutrition will be rolled out in 200 high-burden districts. Also being planned is a re-launch of a strengthened ICDS. India also plans to initiate a nationwide communication campaign against malnutrition.

A child dies every 15 seconds in India due to neonatal diseases while 20 lakh children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Over four lakh newborns are dying every year within 24 hours of life in the country. Over 20% of the world’s child deaths occur in India – the largest number anywhere in the world.

One in three of all malnourished children in the world live in India. A child who has severe acute malnutrition is at least nine times more likely to die than a child who does not. REPORT-TOI