Experts raise the alarm on malnutrition, call it ‘silent emergency’

While over 1 million children die in India due to under-nutrition related causes, the experts emphasize that the country needs a National Food and Nutrition Security Law to tackle the challenge of malnutrition

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(From left to right) Nitin Sarswat, Social Behavior Change Communication Expert_ Govind Parik, PRO, National Health Mission, Govt. of Rajasthan and Dr. Basanta Kar, CEO, Coalition for Food & Nutrition Security.

New Delhi: Several experts and researchers in malnutrition assembled ahead of the National Nutrition Week (Sept 1-7) at a workshop organized by the humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger (India) to discuss various aspects of what they called “a silent emergency.” The participants shared insights regarding myths about acute malnutrition, community-based management of acute malnutrition program, and latest statistics and information on malnutrition.

Dr Basanta Kar, CEO, The Coalition for Food & Nutrition Security, spoke about food and nutrition security not only in terms of food consumption but also associated linkages with climate change, agriculture, and markets. He highlighted how women’s nutrition affects the economy. He said, “Several policy reforms are required to tackle the challenge of malnutrition. The country needs a National Food and Nutrition Security Act to ensure sustainable food and nutrition security, food safety, and bio-safety and bio-diversity.”

Dr Kar called for the establishment of Food and Nutrition Commission headed by the Prime Minister. “We need to develop a national policy and multi-sectoral approach to address India’s double burden on malnutrition – under-nutrition and obesity – in line with the WHA global nutrition targets 2025. In the short term, an India-wide nutrition and micronutrient survey should be undertaken to understand the micronutrient status at the community level,” he added.

The statistics on malnutrition are alarming. Over 1 million children die in India due to under-nutrition related causes (UNICEF 2016). More than half (58.4 percent) of all children in the country are anaemic (NFHS4) and nearly 40 percent are either stunted or underweight.

Mr Shailendra Gujarathi, Mental Health & Care Practices Expert with Action Against Hunger (India), spoke about under-nutrition, its cause and consequences and how it can be prevented using home-based care practices. He said: “Malnutrition is among India’s biggest impediments to sustained, equitable economic growth. Apart from poverty, dietary issues, poor sanitation and low social status of women are some of the reasons for rising child malnutrition. India ranked 97 among 118 countries and 5th amongst Asian countries with a serious hunger situation. Hunger is a silent crisis that needs to be addressed immediately. A collective, multi-sectoral approach which covers both prevention and treatment of malnutrition is needed to achieve the WHA global nutrition targets 2025.”

Mr Nitin Sarswat, an expert in social behaviour change communication (SBCC), mentioned: “Social change is a very slow paced process which needs patience. One of the key components of SBBC is building trust and breaking the barriers of social stigmas and dated beliefs. In an area like malnutrition, SBCC is one of the most important tools to save lives. No matter how good a scheme the government launches or how diligently the voluntary sector works, ultimately, it is the social group that needs to change its age-olds habits which are causing the untimely death of infants due to malnutrition.”

“The media should step forward and play the role of SBCC expert as its social responsibility. It should help build awareness about the issue of malnutrition and change social attitudes,” concluded Mr Sarswat.

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