If a human being’s hemoglobin level is low, there are reasons for the same. While the reasons are numerous, they range from relatively benign nutritional disorders to life-threatening malignancies and bone marrow problems. That makes determining the etiology of anemia essential. While anemia is not a diagnosis, it, as per the experts, is an indicator of an underlying disorder. The severity of the anemia, the experts underline, doesn’t always match the significance of its cause.
In the last Parliament’s session, the government informed that Children aged 6-59 months had some degree of anemia (hemoglobin 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.
As per 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.
The 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.