Question – How can India tackle its formidable nutrition challenge? How POSHAN Abhiyaan can become an effective weapon in this direction? – 27 August 2021
Answer – Formidable nutrition challenge
Formidable nutrition challenge – Over the past few months, the attention of the country and the world has, fittingly, been focused on managing and mitigating the effects of COVID-19. There are many visible effects of COVID-19 – (both proximal and distant). But a silent and invisible crisis that is fueling it is malnutrition, as it puts income, food consumption and essential services all under pressure. As India ramps up efforts to recover from the impact of the pandemic, there is an urgent need for an evidence-based, integrated, results-focused approach to tackle India’s nutrition challenge. This is clearly on the agenda of the government, but we need to move fast, so that this generation of Indian children can achieve their full potential.
In the past, various government initiatives such as Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), National Health Mission (NHM), Janani Suraksha Yojana, Matritva Sahyog Yojana, Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme and National Food Security Mission were launched. The main goal of these programs was to improve the nutritional status. But concerns about malnutrition remain.
The ‘Poshan Abhiyaan’ has been launched by the government as a part of the National Nutrition Strategy, which envisages ending malnutrition by 2022.
Under this campaign, a target has been set to reduce problems like stunting, under-nutrition, anemia (in young children, women and adolescent girls) and low birth weight in newborns by 2%, 2%, 3% and 2% respectively every year. The mission aims to bring down the problem of stunting among 0-6 year olds from 38.4% to 25% level by 2022.
The majority of India’s smallholder plots are tended by women farmers. Investing in their empowerment and in nutrition-sensitive agricultural programmes can help women and their communities live healthier and more prosperous lives. Recognising this, the government, working closely with development partners and community groups, in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and other states, has supported setting up “Poshan Vatikas” or nutrition gardens, allowing families to access locally-produced nutritive foods while increasing their livelihoods and productivity.
- Integrated Approach: Various existing Ministries/Departments at the level of Center and States/UTs are working in different ways to tackle malnutrition. Under the POSHAN Abhiyaan, necessary coordination will be established at the central level through the National Council on Nutrition Challenges and the POSHAN Abhiyaan Executive Committee, through the Convergence Action Plan at the state, district and block level and through high speed network at the village level.
- Use of Technology: Under this, frontline workers i.e. Anganwadi workers and women supervisors will be empowered by providing smartphones and the traditional register based process being used at present will be done away with ‘ICDS-Common Application Software’ specially developed for this purpose. Data is captured through this, where the delivery of specified services is ensured and interventions can also be made wherever necessary. It enables real time monitoring at all levels.
- Incentives at various levels: This includes incentives for Anganwadi workers, ASHA and ANMs to achieve the targets along with faster achievement of targets and better service delivery for lower level workers such as Anganwadi workers. It also includes team-based incentives.
- Better Public Participation: It aims at developing an understanding of the inter-generational and multidimensional nature of the problem of malnutrition and through this to make malnutrition eradication a mass movement by motivating the behavior change of the people. It also includes a social audit mechanism to track the health progress of children.
- Research and evidence-based interventions: The campaign ensures that nutrition needs to be guided and informed by the latest research and evidence through institutional support first by the National Nutrition Resource Center (NNRC) and the Food Fortification Resource Center (FFRC).
In recent years, the government has prioritised addressing malnutrition through the Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nourishment (POSHAN) Abhiyaan and with updated POSHAN 2.0 guidelines announced in January 2021. The road ahead is not easy. But, as a country, we have made great progress on many complex developmental challenges such as water, sanitation and financial inclusion. Each time the road to progress requires us to use multiple levers – such as scientific innovation, traditional knowledge systems, community engagement, digital tools and data-driven management.