Malnutrition during COVID

#GS2 #Governance #Health

Context

  • COVID-19 has heightened risk of increasing malnutrition; parts of progress made in the past may get undone, says head of nutrition, UNICEF India. 

Statistics

  • Despite the fact that India has made improvements in economic and human development, high levels of maternal and child undernutrition continue to plague the country.
  • Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) and National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS) reveals that:
    • About one-third of children under 5 years of age in India are stunted
    • A third of them are underweight
    • Almost two out of 10 children are nutritionally wasted
    • Many of these children suffer from multiple anthropometric deficits.
    • Problems of overweight, obesity and micro-nutrient deficiencies also persists.
  • Poshan Abhiyan Program of Indian government refocused the national development agenda on nutrition.

Covid-19 Impact

  • COVID-19 has badly affected access to livelihoods. The pandemic induced lockdown and containment measures to prevent the spread of the virus destroyed livelihoods. 
  • The price hikes due to reduced production of goods and services and the disruption of supply chains became a tragedy for many families.
  • Research estimates suggests that there is a 14.3% increase in wasting globally. 
  • There is no specific data available on the impact of COVID-19 on the nutritional status of the Indian population. 
  • The COVID-19 infection adversely affects the nutritional status of a child.
  • As the pandemic prolongs, food insecurities and nutritional challenges will intensify too.
  • On completion of six months, children need nutrient dense complementary foods in addition to breast milk to adequately fuel the growth of their growing bodies and brain. Food insecurity arising out of the pandemic may cause families to shift to cheap food with low nutritive value, causing long-term adverse impact on the cognitive development of children.
  • Health and social services, such as anganwadi centres, nutrition rehabilitation centres, and village health sanitation and nutrition days (VHSND), were disrupted. 
  • As schools remained closed for a large part of 2020 and well into 2021, we also noticed that distribution of iron and folic acid tablets to children in schools was significantly reduced, and awareness campaigns in schools on nutrition were suspended. 
  • It was not until early 2021 that more and more States started opening anganwadi centres again, but centre-based activities soon were suspended due to the second wave of COVID-19.
  • As COVID-19 demanded extraordinary attention, health workers were diverted from nutrition programmes.
  • Fourth and most importantly, COVID-19 related priorities could threaten delivery and financing of nutrition and nutrition security responses.

Way Forward

  • Focus to address food, income and nutritional security.
  • Uninterrupted, universal, timely and high-quality coverage of essential evidence-based nutritional services must be ensured, with special focus on children below two years of age, pregnant women and adolescent girls, which are critical development periods.
  • Strategies that adapt to COVID-19 guidelines and innovations in the service delivery mechanism.
  • Adequate financing is required to ensure delivery of high-impact interventions. 
  • Additional financing will be required for ensuring food and nutritional security, especially for the vulnerable population groups.
  • Multi-sectoral interventions that directly or indirectly impact nutrition like health, nutrition and social protection schemes need to be delivered effectively to the same household, same woman, same child. Migrant labourers and urban poor need special focus.
  • Nutrition needs to be retained as a key indicator for development. For the future of children in India, stopping COVID-19 and stopping malnutrition are equally important and urgent.
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