“When you see in places like Africa and parts of Asia abject poverty, hungry children and malnutrition around you, and you look at yourself as being people who have well-being and comforts, I think it takes a very insensitive, tough person not to feel they need to do something” – Ratan Tata
The report titled ‘State of the World’s Children’, was recently released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It is one of the most detailed reports on children, food, nutrition and premature deaths, and the last time UNICEF had produced such a report was 20 years ago.
India appears to be in appalling circumstances; the report found that India had the highest number of premature deaths of children below the age of 5, in 2018, i.e. 8.82 lakh child deaths. 69% of these deaths were caused by malnutrition.
What I found equally appalling after reading this report, is the fact that Indian children suffer from afflictions like juvenile diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disorder. The data also reveals that youngsters below 5 years suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. While every fifth child under age five is deficient in vitamin A, one in every third baby has a vitamin B12 deficiency, and two out of every five children are anaemic.
The report stated that about 38% of Indian children below age 5 suffer from retardation. “In India, for example, almost half of the children are stunted in the worst-affected state compared with a fifth in the least-affected state,” it said.
UNICEF scrutinised the health of children across the world, considering the following: undernourishment, anaemia, obesity, kidney ailments, diabetes, and hypertension along with other health problems.
The report further found that:
The review also points out that, practically two in three children, between six months and two years of age, are not fed nutriment, which is necessary to support their intellectual growth. This ultimately puts them at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, in many cases, death.
As per the findings, the states which have topped the list of highest malnutrition and premature deaths in India include Odisha, Assam, Tripura, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Ironically, the report points out that India does have schemes in place to tackle malnutrition. The POSHAN Abhiyan or the National Nutrition Mission is engaged in ameliorating nutrition-related problems in all parts of India. Its vision is “to ensure attainment of malnutrition free India by 2022.”
To begin with, the Anemia Mukt Bharat programme, to curb the increasing rate of anaemia among women and children is considered to be one of the best programmes worldwide, addressing the problem of malnutrition.
The report also brought to the fore the 6X6X6 strategy, (six target beneficiary groups, six interventions and six institutional mechanisms), of the programme. This uses anaemia testing and treatment as a means to relay information on healthy diets.
UNICEF made some recommendations to improve the status quo:
In my opinion, this should be done at frequent intervals, and we should not depend only on UNICEF reports.
India is a developing country and children are our future. It is our duty to ensure that we retain a suitable mortality rate in children and also an affliction-free life.