Here's how Assam govt, experts are collaborating for an improved menu

Guwahati: The Assam government and the Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security (CFNS), a diverse group of policy makers that works towards ‘sustainable food and nutrition security for all’, have joined hands to chalk out a plan to eradicate malnutrition from the state.

A state consultation in regard to synergising the collaborating partners and bringing them aboard a single platform to address the issue of malnutrition among children, was held here on Sunday to address ‘childhood wasting’ in Assam.

Speaking to EastMojo on Monday, Assam director of Poshan Abhiyan Bibhash Chandra Modi said the CFNS, which is a strong wing of the government comprising retired civil servants and experts, will collaborate with the state government and help in making policy decisions on food and nutrition.

Throwing more light on the collaboration with CFNS, Modi said the CFNS would help synergise the collaborating partners and bring them aboard one platform on nutrition matters.

“We have decided to strengthen and reactivate the remote service system (which was activated during the peak of the pandemic) so that the field-level functionaries could provide fresh/hot cooked meals to children in the remote/rural areas. As of now, we are sensitising them on how to address the issues,” he said, in reference to the challenges being faced amid the critical flood situation in the state at present.

“Secondly, we have prepared an annual calendar for chalking out a roadmap and enhancing the capacity of the field level functionaries as part of our efforts to eradicate malnourishment in the state. As per the calendar, we will, on a day-to-day level, train the frontline workers such as Anganwadi workers and supervisors so that they can percolate the information down the line up to the beneficiary level,” Modi said.

“We will also activate a platform – VHSND (village health sanitation and nutrition day) – under which health camps are organised every Wednesday and Saturday in collaboration with Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security (CFNS),” he said.

It may be noted that CFNS was formed following a large consultation on nutrition security held at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai in August 2007. It began its efforts by requesting a diverse group of experts to review the evidence and the food and nutrition security situation in India, and prepare a Leadership Agenda for Action (LAA).

The LAA document provided the policy and programme leaders with effective, evidence-based recommendations to improve nutrition security in India. Since 2010, the coalition has been advocating and supporting the implementation of the recommendations from the LAA.

The Poshan Abhiyan (Assam) director further informed that an MoU would soon be signed with Assam State Rural Livelihood Mission (ASRLM) so that the self-help groups under ASRLM would help create Poshan Vatikas across all Anganwadi centres.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has been promoting the establishment of “Poshan Vatikas” across the country. Literally translating to nutri-gardens, the ministry plans to set up Poshan Vatikas across all Anganwadi centres with the aim to provide a fresh supply of fruits, vegetables and even medicinal plants, especially in aspirational districts.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 (2019-20), 9.1 per cent, 1 out of 10 children under the age of 5 are suffering from Severe Acute Malnourishment or SAM. Three out of 10 (32.8 per cent) children are underweight; 6 out of 10 (65.9 per cent).

Childhood wasting (low weight for height) which is also known as severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is a condition of under-nutrition among children. It is calculated by comparing the weight for height of a child with a reference population of well nourished and healthy children as per World Health Organisation’s guidelines on child growth standards.

Asked how alarming thechildhood wasting, especially malnutrition status of the state was, Modi said that the “situation now is not as alarming as it was in 2019, which the NFHS-5 had indicated then.

“Since then (2019-20) we have carried out several activities, be it anemic-free India, combating malnutrition, either through Poshan Abhiyan or from the directorate of social welfare. The menu has changed from a single item to five. Fortified rice from FCI is being procured at just Rs 3 per kg as against a higher rate before. With that we have been able to add more nutrition to the meals,” he said.

The Poshan Abhiyan director during the consultation, stressed on the importance of Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), which is a globally recommended approach for SAM.

“Along with Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres (NRCs), CMAM will also play a role for children who are not suffering any medical complications,” said the director.

He also observed that the health and social welfare department needed to work hand in hand to achieve best results in the programme.

Assam Chief Secretary Jishnu Barua had during the state consultation here, highlighted the steps being taken by the social welfare department to address the issue of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) children of the state.

“With the amount saved, the government is coming out with an improved menu for children in AWCs. Inclusion of egg in the menu is going to be a game changer,” he had remarked.

He also mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has also made everyone realise the importance of nutrition as a whole.

The chief secretary also stressed the importance of nutrition dense foods which can be made available locally.

He further lauded initiatives such as ‘Sampoorna’, which was taken up in Bongaigaon district which restored 95.6 percent of the malnourished children to a normal state of health and managed to bag the Prime Minister’s Award for excellence in Public Administration, 2021.

Assam has over the years made progress in its health indicators compared to those projected by the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16).

According to the survey, the health profile of Assam showed that about 29.8 per cent of children below the age of 5 years are underweight. Besides, 35.7 percent of children between the age group of 6-59 months are anemic.

It indicated the state of acute malnutrition which may be attributed to lack of proper nutritious food, illiteracy among parents, lack of proper sanitation facilities, irregular heath checkups, food scarcity and various socio economics factors that affect the nutritional status of children. 

Also read: Assam flood situation worsens; 9 more killed, 42 lakh people hit

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