The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened India’s problem of malnutrition

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  • According to UNICEF, India is likely to witness an increase in malnutrition by at least 10%.
  • Even before the coronavirus pandemic began, one in every nine people globally suffered from hunger, according to the UN.
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Tens of thousands of children were forced to go to sleep on an empty stomach during the coronavirus pandemic in India. The pandemic put thousands of daily wage workers out of jobs, with many finding it difficult to make ends meet or feed their families.

As ironic as it sounds on World Food Day – here’s another statistic that India has to deal with – a t least 115 million children are at the risk of malnutrition.

And experts believe the situation isn’t going to improve soon. According to UNICEF, India is likely to witness an increase in malnutrition by at least 10%.

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“As far as malnutrition in India is concerned, a Lancet study last year estimated that two-thirds of the 1.04 million deaths in children under five years in India is still attributable to malnutrition. And during Covid-19, it may increase by 10-20%,” Arjan De Wagt,Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF, India said.

In India, every two in three deaths of children are due to malnutrition
Even before the coronavirus pandemic began, one in every nine people globally suffered from hunger, according to the UN. Even today, Asia and Africa account for the highest share of malnutrition in the world. Nine out of ten stunted children and nine out of all wasted children (those with abnormally low weight or height) globally live in either Asia or Africa.

India has for long struggled to fight chronic hunger. In 2019, India ranked 102 — below Nepal and Pakistan — in the Global Hunger Index. India’s level of hunger was categorised as ‘serious.’
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Over the last few years, India has taken small steps in its fight against malnutrition, resulting in a significant decline in child mortality rate. If this progress would have continued, India would have met its ‘Sustainable Goal’ of reducing under-five mortality by 25% by 2030.

However, the little progress too came to a halt as the COVID-19 lockdown forced millions of children to stay out of school. Anganwadis were also closed and for thousands of children in rural areas, it meant they weren't able to get food under the Mid-Day meal programme.

Fighting nutrition challenges in India

The Indian government recently launched the National Nutrition Mission ('POSHAN Abhiyaan') to take steps to reduce stunting, under-nutrition, anemia (among young children, women and adolescent girls), and low birth weight.
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But for a developing country like India, fighting malnutrition in children has multiple factors associated with it. The primary reasons may include lack of adequate nutrition available for the mothers during pregnancy, delayed initiation of breastfeeding, suboptimal exclusive breastfeeding, restricted access to diverse and nutrient-rich food due to social or economic factors, lack of age-appropriate complementary feeding of young infants and children, and caregiving practices.

Other factors which make addressing malnutrition in India more complex is the economic condition of parents, lack of awareness. educational resources and healthcare.

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