In his address to mark the beginning of ‘Nutrition Month’ in the country on September 7, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked for recipes of nutritional food to be shared on government portals in order to get rid of malnutrition from society. This appeal by the PM has confirmed the assumption that the government is rapidly turning its back on its responsibility to provide nutrition for children up to the age of 6, pregnant women, and lactating mothers.
Government figures themselves stand witness to the fact that since the lockdown began on March 25, Anganwadi centers and health facilities at the lowest level across the country have been adversely affected, and as such, the number of malnourished children will drastically increase in the coming months.
Data from the National Health Mission says that from April to June this year, malnourished children were admitted to only 9 to 13 percent out of the full capacity of the 966 nutrition rehabilitation centres in the country. The number of children admitted to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centers (NRC) in April 2020 was 1315, which is just 9% of the number of children admitted to NRCS in April last year. Similarly, 3472 children were admitted to NRCs in May, which is just 13 percent of the number of children admitted in the same month last year, while 3472 children were admitted in June, which is 16 percent of the number of children admitted in June last year.
If we look at the Madhya Pradesh, NRCs are lying vacant in Dhar, Alirajpur, and Jhabua, the districts worst hit by malnutrition. Since Anganwadi centres in these districts have been shut down since March 25, neither is the growth of children being monitored and nor are malnourished children being identified. Data released by the National Nutrition Centre in Hyderabad in 2018, identified 38.5%, 54.6%, and 48.6% of children to be malnourished in Dhar, Alirajpur, and Jhabua respectively.
In September 2016, malnutrition claimed the lives of 116 innocents, in Sheopur, Madhya Pradesh, a district infamous for widespread malnutrition.
After this, for the first time in Madhya Pradesh, the district was divided into three parts and 23 growth monitors were appointed. But on May 31 last year, the contract period for the growth monitors expired and the contract was not extended by the government. The district does not have even one growth monitor for observation for the Nutrition Project.
Madhya Pradesh has a total of 8903 Anganwadi centers in urban areas and 51558 Anganwadi centers in rural areas. During the pandemic, the Shivraj Singh government of the state put Anganwadi workers and volunteers to the task of COVID-19 testing and gave the orders for dry ration kits to be distributed amongst children up to the age of 6, pregnant women, and lactating mothers.
When the self-help groups did not receive any money for four months for the ration kits that were to be distributed through them, they stopped working. This is also the case for the 108 ambulance service in the State, which is being used to carry COVID-19 patients.
Anganwadi centers are closed. Schools are shut. Six essential nutritional services for children are closed, and the MIS of the state’s Department of Women and Child Development is closed as well. The Shivraj government has opened up markets in the state in accordance with Unlock-4. The ban on movement has been lifted, and buses have begun operating. However, no one is concerned about the reopening of Anganwadi centers. Instead, politics is being started again on the question of whether or not eggs should be fed to children for nutrition.
In India, two out of three children under the age of five are malnourished. In spite of this, the MIS of the National Health Mission has also been closed for the last six months. The months of September and October are the season of malaria and dengue. Children affected by malaria are three times more likely to become prey to malnutrition.
The government, however, is still not aware of how many children’s lives have been sacrificed to malnutrition across the country in the last six months and how many children are currently counting their hours until death due to malnutrition. At the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading to the villages from the cities, if this affects malnourished children most severely, then entire villages will drown in the grief of the death of their children.
This article was first published in Hindi on Janjwar.com.