Meghalaya: ADB approves $40.4 million loan for child development, maternal health
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Guwahati: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $40.4 million loan to integrate early childhood development (ECD) and maternal mental health in Meghalaya.

This is part of ADB’s attempt to help Meghalaya establish nutrition gardens at Anganwadi centres (AWC) for improved diet diversity and nutrition security. The loan will help Meghalaya ensure children aged 6 years receive nurturing care for their growth and development. The state government will contribute $15.27 million to the project.

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The project will strengthen home-based childcare (children 0–1.5 years) and centre-based childcare (1.5–6 years) through daycare (Anganwadi) centres in Meghalaya. The project aims to improve access to nurturing care, including a component of maternal mental health care and group-based parenting programs to enable the inclusion of fathers in caregiving. ADB’s assistance will also improve nutrient adequacy by adding eggs to the diet of pregnant and lactating women and children 0.5–6 years of age.

As one of several climate-resilient features, the project will also help establish nutrition gardens at Anganwadi centres (AWC) for improved diet diversity and nutrition security.  

Meghalaya is home to 3.3 million people (80% rural and 86% tribal), with almost 70% of individuals engaged in agriculture and allied activities. The state’s per capita income is Rs 87,653 (India’s national average is Rs 132,115) and 34% of the population lives below the poverty line. About 0.5 million children are 6 years old. The state has a high burden of malnutrition for children aged 5 years.

The prevalence of stunting rose from 44% in fiscal year (FY) 2016 to 47% in FY2019 (national average of 36%). About 45% of children and 54% of women were found anaemic.

“The first early years—including especially the first 1,000 days—are critical to a child’s growth and development. Providing ample nutrition and nurturing care early on and enabling both parents is essential to building a strong growth foundation for a child. At the heart of childcare are mothers, making it important to ensure they have the needed health services and support,” said ADB Principal Health Specialist Dinesh Arora. 

“ADB is committed to supporting the state government’s efforts to mainstream ECD and in adopting this innovative project design that can be scaled up across the country.”

The ADB-supported project will upgrade 1,800 AWCs and construct around 600 new AWCs in hard-to-reach areas with climate-resilient designs. These AWCs will serve as daycare centres, and staff will be augmented with a new ECD educator who will help extend centre-based childcare services to children 1.5–3 years old, in addition to children 3-6 years of age. 

About 1,010 hard-to-reach villages in Meghalaya have no access to AWCs. Currently, the state has 5,896 AWCs compared to an estimated need of 6,906 AWCs.

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A $2 million technical assistance grant from the Japan Fund for Prosperous and Resilient Asia and the Pacific will help develop guidelines and training curricula for AWC staff and ECD educators.

A new state resource centre will be established for the developing child to serve as a centre of excellence for ECD services. ADB will carry out a first-of-its-kind large-scale evaluation to assess the effectiveness of integrated ECD interventions in a lower-middle-income country to inform national and global childcare policies. 

Also Read | Meghalaya: Atleast 15 children fall ill during Independence Day parade

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