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COVID-19 has added a layer to malnutrition crisis in India

COVID-19 has added a layer to malnutrition crisis in India
  • Several poor families have lost their livelihoods during this pandemic, leaving at least 115 million children at the risk of malnutrition.
  • However, according to Economist Mohan Guruswamy, the decline in the next quarter is going to be horrendous.
  • Experts say while we control COVID-19, we should not forget the development of other health issues and should continue to pay attention to them as well.
In India, the coronavirus pandemic forced tens of thousands of children to go to sleep on an empty stomach. Several poor families lost their livelihoods, leaving at least 115 million children at the risk of malnutrition. And, the latest GDP number isn’t comforting.

Economists believe India’s worsening economy — which saw a -23.9% dip in GDP in three months — is going to push more people under poverty and is also going to affect the country’s progress in reducing malnutrition.

"What will happen is more people will lose jobs, and they'll lose hope. Hunger will increase, child malnutrition will increase, and more people will be pushed into poverty." Santosh Mehrotra, Professor of Economics and Chairperson, Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies, JNU said in an interview.

Prof Mehrotra believes the economy will shrink further and which will reduce daily wages in rural areas. People will come to urban cities to find work, but due to a lack of jobs in the market, we will see a lot more beggars on the streets.

However, according to Mohan Guruswamy, the decline hasn’t begun yet and the decline in the next quarter is going to be horrendous. Guruswamy heads the Centre for Policy Alternative and has worked as an adviser to the Finance Ministry in 1998.

COVID-19 brings India’s little progress to a halt
Over the last few years, India was able to make a little progress in its fight against malnutrition, with a significant decline in child mortality rate.

Between 2000 and 2017, India’s under-5 mortality rate (USMR) declined by 49% from 83 deaths per 1000 live births in 2000 to 42 deaths in 2017. There were 1.04 million under-five deaths in 2017, against 2.24 million in 2000, according to the latest research published in the Lancet.

The mortality data becomes a crucial indicator as 68% of under-five deaths in India are due to inaccessible proper meals or maternal and child malnutrition.

If this progress were to continue, India would have met its Sustainable Goal of reducing under-five mortality to reduce to 25% by 2030.

However, the progress came to a halt after the COVID-19 lockdown forced millions of children to stay out of school. For thousands of children in rural areas, this also means they won’t be able to get food under the Mid-Day meal programme.

The World Health Organisation advised people to give fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, protein, and milk to young children and infants during the pandemic.

But, migrant labourers and other poor families could not afford to buy fruits and milk every day. Even getting by with a decent meal everyday was becoming a struggle.

“I can only give them what I can afford,” a worker told IndiaSpend.

Malnutrition perpetuates the vicious cycle of intergenerational undernutrition that results in a high incidence of babies born with low birth weight, more susceptible to infections, more likely to experience growth failure, reflected in high levels of child undernutrition and anaemia, Dr. Sunil Rajpal, Associate Professor, Health Economist, IIHMR University, Jaipur told Business Insider India.

Experts say while we control COVID-19, we should not forget the development of other health issues and should continue to pay attention to them as well.

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