Sunday, November 25, 2012

State missed mark, truth came out at Chintan Shibir

Gujarat EDN
TOI 31AUG2012


Ahmedabad: “We are far behind our goals,” said a worried bureaucrat of the Gujarat health and family welfare department as he presented before the chief minister the status of undernourishment in Gujarat in the February 2011 Chintan Shibir meet. Every second child under five years of age in Gujarat is underweight.
    The officer said Gujarat presents a unique paradox. “On one hand development is at its peak, while on the other under-nourishment contributes to more than a third of deaths in children under the age of five. Neo-natal and infant mortality rates (IMR) too are at an unprecedented high,” the bureaucrat pointed out in the presentation. A copy of this presentation is with TOI.
    While the chief minister may claim that milk is not consumed by “figure conscious” young girls, the bitter truth, according to this official presentation is that “across villages in Gujarat most families prefer to sell their milk to cooperatives under financial compulsions, depriving children and family members of a nutrition source. Even in agriculture, farmers prefer growing cash crops over pulses and grain.”
    In sixteen of Gujarat’s 26 districts, 45 to 64% of children are underweight, and in nine of the 12 tribal districts 45% or more of children are underweight.
    On vegetarianism, the presentation says: “In Gujarat, green leafy vegetables form less than 20% of the recommended dietary allowance prescribed by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB).” The bureaucrat feared that under-nutrition may affect cognition levels in child under two years of age — which may lead to low IQ.
    “Most under-nutrition sets in during the first two years of a child’s life. Much of this early damage is irreversible. Sadly, the government’s focus is on malnutrition in the age group of 3 to 6 years, whereas the focus must be on the 0 to 2 years age group,” the bureaucrat claimed.
    The presentation also sought to list reasons for the widespread malnutrition. “First, under-nutrition was never perceived as a serious problem in Gujarat until it turned severe. Second, limited nutritional services reach tribal families as they live in regions with poor access. Third, unhygienic practices while feeding infants and children are to blame. Fourth, there is poor monitoring of children’s growth in the state’s Mamta card programme.”
    The bureaucrat also claimed that malnutrition in urban areas was an emerging concern.