Mix of Malnutrition &COVIDC19 may spell Doom for Children in India

The Pandemic has affected the Momentum of POSHAN Abhiyaan: Says UNICEF Nutrition Chief

New Delhi: POSHAN Abhiyan which was started in India to arm children with immunity, the most potent weapon against raging COVID19, is losing momentum in the wake of melee created by the pandemic. It is estimated that 10-20% more children under five may die due to slackening of this campaign. This emerged in the midst of discussion in India Immunity e-summit 2020.

COVID-19 has hardly left anyone unaffected. Recently, UNICEF warned that additional 6,000 children could die daily from preventable causes over the next six months as the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened the health systems, disrupting routine services. In the Rashtriya Poshan Maah, to discuss Nutrition Security and National Nutrition Programs; the Immunity Conundrum: Lesson learnt, and Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy: Linking ancient wisdom to modern science, ‘Healthcare Advocacy Group’ — HEAL Foundation in association with ICCIDD and name partner Coalition Food & Nutrition Security organised ‘India Immunity e-Summit 2020: Science of Balancing Food & Nutrition in Maintaining Optimal Immunity’ followed by ‘Immunity Champions of India Awards’ on September 17.

During COVID-19, the Prime Minister’s overarching scheme for Holistic Nutrition or POSHAN Abhiyaan or National Nutrition Mission, a flagship programme to improve nutritional outcomes for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers have been affected badly. This is a multi-ministerial convergence mission with a vision to address malnutrition in a targeted approach.

On being asked on the current state of malnutrition amongst the children in India due to COVID-19 and the probable measure to overcome this menace, Mr Arjan De Wagt, Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF, India, while addressing ‘India Immunity e-Summit 2020 said, “As far as malnutrition in India is concerned, 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%’’.

“COVID-19 has affected the momentum of POSHAN Abhiyan, and induced the nutrition crisis. However, in the ongoing Poshan Maah, we see the momentum is getting back, and I hope to see POSHAN Abhiyan 1.2. The govt. needs to maintain the tempo and get back on track with maximum Coverage, Continuity, Intensity and Quality (CCIQ) to fight back COVID-19. And In my opinion, there should be 12 Poshan Maah and 52 Breastfeeding Weeks in a year rather than one. Parents play the biggest role in feeding the children, so they should be educated about the importance of nutrition in boosting immunity”, addedMr Wagt.

Elaborating on the essence and the need to conduct such discourse on nutrition and immunity, Mr Bishow Parajuli, Representative & Country Director, WFP, India, while addressing ‘India Immunity e-Summit 2020 said, “During the COVID-19 time, some Indian states have faced crisis but at the same time the role of some states have been instrumental in tackling the COVID-19 situation such as Kerala, Orissa and UP have done a fantastic job, indeed. Especially, the UP state has been seen quite proactive in ensuring that the people receive foods even without ration cards. The CM of UP is coming forward and making sure that no one sleeps hungry. To scale up the food supply chain and to combat the food crisis, the UP Govt. is pumping INR 1200 crore.”

“Although, hunger and malnutrition are rising due to COVID-19, yet civil societies, self-help groups are coming forward to rescue the people encountered with hunger. POSHAN Abhiyan in India is fantastic, though it is affected a bit due to COVID. During mass migration, we realised hidden hunger, so we need to customise the nutrition module”,addedMr Bishow Parajuli.

While addressing ‘India Immunity e-Summit 2020, Mr Tarun Vij, Country Director, GAIN, said, “Still, 700 thousand children are stunted. In the COVID-19 pandemic, already vulnerable groups have been affected the most as the food supply chain got disturbed. Considering the malnutrition and stunting in India galore, all development partners should work towards food fortification. This will help make out the nutritional balance because nutrition is the key to life and if one is nutritionally deficient, one is going to die.”

Deliberating on the importance of nutrition and its relevance with optimising immunity, Dr Swadeep Srivastava, Founder HEAL Foundation, said, “Malnutrition has always been a major problem in India with over 38% of Indian children under five being stunted and over 50% of women of reproductive age are anaemic. And this momentum has increased considerably during COVID-19. This pandemic has made us learn the importance of food & nutrition and its pivotal role in maintaining optimal immunity. We need to balance our nutrition because India faces the double burden of undernutrition and obesity: the cases of overweight adults are now almost equal to the number of underweight adults. Nothing but balanced nutrition can only help us maintain the desired level of immunity.”

“The world at large is passing through the abject nutritional crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in debilitating of immunity. It is very important to make the people aware of the close relationship between nutrition and immunity. In such a scenario, organising ‘India Immunity e-Summit 2020 is indeed a much needed and a welcome step forward”,Dr C S Pandav, Former HoD, Community Medicine, AIIMS, Director- South Asia Region, ICCIDD.

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