U.P. charts progress in child nutrition, aims to curb stunting in stricken dists

BySreya Deb
Sep 28, 2023 06:54 PM IST

Uttar Pradesh is now putting extra emphasis on the few districts that require additional attention to continue its march towards better child nutrition.

LUCKNOW Long grappling with child malnutrition issues, Uttar Pradesh is now making substantial progress in addressing this concern. While the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data reveals U.P. retains its position among the top states with child stunting, there’s a positive outlook thanks to significant improvements in other key indicators. The state is now putting extra emphasis on the few districts that require additional attention to continue its march towards better child nutrition.

Women with their infants at the NRC (Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre) in Sitapur. (HT Photo)
Women with their infants at the NRC (Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre) in Sitapur. (HT Photo)

In the recently released NFHS 5 report for 2021, Uttar Pradesh stands as the third-highest state with child stunting, affecting 39.7% of infants. While this ranking is still a cause for concern, it’s noteworthy that the state has seen a gradual decline in under-5 stunted population, from approximately 57% to 46%, and then down to 40% over three survey cycles. U.P. currently finds itself in the third position from the bottom in terms of child stunting rates, with only Meghalaya and Bihar reporting higher figures. In the 2016 NFHS report, U.P. occupied the second-to-last spot. The latest report reveals that several states, such as Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Assam, have made commendable strides in addressing this issue. These states exhibit lower child stunting rates when compared to Uttar Pradesh.

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Within the state, the data reveals that 39.7% of children are stunted, 32.1% are underweight, and 17.3% are wasted, as reported by the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Despite these challenges, the government is actively working to improve health, nutrition, and education indicators, with a particular focus on the districts that need it the most.

Sarneet Kaur Broca, ICDS director said, “a four-month campaign titled ‘Sambhav’ is reaching completion by the end of September where 1.5 crore SAM (severe acute malnutrition) and MAM (moderate acute malnutrition) children were identified across the state and medicines and supplementary nutrition have reached almost 60% of the kids. By the end of the project, we hope to reach 80% to 90% of the children,” she said. She also said that it is far easier to carry this out now, “Since there have been advancements in the technology, now the ICDS and the health department share the same data of the SAM and MAM children and their families.

The NFHS report for Uttar Pradesh also sheds light on gender disparities, indicating that more girls suffer from malnutrition than boys. Additionally, only 42% of women in the state receive the recommended number of antenatal care visits before conception. Some districts like Unnao, Barabanki, Bhadohi, Ghazipur, and Chitrakoot record less than 30% of women receiving proper antenatal care.

While Bahraich has the highest number of stunted children in Uttar Pradesh, Banda leads in wasted and underweight children. However, the government’s proactive approach is reflected in a 2022 study by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which identified these districts among the top ten in India with the highest prevalence of stunted children under the age of five.

Addressing the issue, Keshri Nandan Tiwari, district probation officer of Banda, points out a significant factor contributing to child malnutrition: the lack of a healthy gap between pregnancies. Tiwari stressed the need for awareness and education on proper family planning to ensure both mothers and children’s health.

Raj Kapoor, Bahraich DPO, commended the community’s increasing awareness and the effectiveness of the e-Kavach portal. Kapoor praised the efforts of anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, and auxiliary nurse and midwives (ANMs) in identifying and addressing malnutrition cases. He expressed optimism, stating, “It has been 3-4 months since the e-Kavach portal became active, and we can already see an improved understanding of children’s health among the communities. I believe it will continue to improve.”

Frontline workers like Kamini Verma, a nurse at a district Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre (NRC), continue to face challenges due to poverty and lack of information in remote rural areas. Verma emphasized the need for increased awareness of proper pregnancy care and resources to reduce critical health issues in newborns and children.

While there is progress to celebrate, Uttar Pradesh acknowledges that there is more work to be done, especially in specific districts that require heightened attention. As of 2020, the state had the highest number of children affected by Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) under the age of six, with rural areas facing greater challenges in accessing healthcare. Nevertheless, with continued efforts and focused interventions, Uttar Pradesh is determined to improve child nutrition and ensure a brighter future for its children.

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