In the Parliament’s winter session, the government informed that Children aged 6-59 months had some degree of anemia (haemoglobin levels below 11.0 g/dl) which has increased as per National Family Health Survey-5.
There are various causes for anemia in children, which inter alia include low iron stores at birth due to maternal anemia, non-exclusive breastfeeding, poor complementary feeding practices, insufficient quantity of iron and iron enhancers in diet such as foods rich in Vitamin-C, increased iron requirements related to rapid growth and development during infancy and childhood, iron losses due to parasite load (e.g.malaria, intestinal worms), unsafe drinking water and inadequate personal hygiene and poor environmental sanitation, etc.
The estimated number of underweight, malnourished and severely malnourished children under 5 years of age is obtained under NFHS conducted by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. As per the recent report of NFHS-5 (2019-21), the nutrition indicators for children under 5 years have improved as compared with NFHS-4 (2015-16). Stunting has reduced from 38.4% to 35.5%, Wasting has reduced from 21.0% to 19.3% and Underweight prevalence has reduced from 35.8% to 32.1%.
While these parameters are good and need to be improved further, anemia among children is a serious issue and should be addressed by filling up the gaps in implementation of various schemes.
According to the government, various schemes run by the Ministry for welfare of women and children in the country have been clubbed together into three verticals—Saksham Anganwadi & Poshan 2.0; Mission Shakti and Mission Vatsalya. Two of them pertain to nutrition.
The Saksham Anganwadi & Poshan 2.0 programme has been further reorganized into three primary verticals—Nutrition Support for Children, Adolescent Girls and Pregnant Women & Lactating Mothers; Early Childhood Care and Education [3-6 years] and Anganwadi Infrastructure including modern, upgraded Saksham Anganwadis.
Also, under Mission Vatsalya, support is provided for delivering services for children in need and in difficult circumstances universally across the country and developing context-based solutions for holistic development of children from varied backgrounds. The Child Care Institutions (CCIs) established under the scheme support inter-alia age appropriate education, access to vocational training, recreation, health care, counselling etc. and covers both rural and urban children.
Government needs to keep continuous focus to address the challenges of malnutrition in children, adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers through a strategic shift in nutrition content and delivery. There is need for putting in place a convergent eco-system to develop and promote practices that nurture health, wellness and immunity.