Devthala village, in Rajasthan’s Jaipur district, is abuzz with ‘medical’ activity. In one of its dwellings, a six-year-old’s height, weight, arm length, waist size as well as grip strength are being measured by one of half a dozen surveyors. A Unicef delegation is overseeing the process.
When the child’s grandmother asks know how this will help, someone from the delegation explains the longterm benefits of the exercise. After listening for five minutes, she says, “This is wonderful. This means there will be fewer people sick in our household in the years to come.”
Around 65 families out of 600 households in Devthala (as per the 2011 census) allowed city dwellers in white lab coats to collect blood, stool and urine samples and take measurements of their children in December. The surveyors also asked questions about education, job status, sanitation, and number of family members, besides testing the children’s IQ.
The exercise, the first of its kind in terms of sample size and parameters tested, was part of the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) conducted jointly by Unicef, the ministry of health and family and welfare, the ministry of statistics and program implementation, notfor-profit Population Council of India, private sector firm SRL Diagnostics Ltd, and ArcelorMittal SA chief financial officer Aditya Mittal and his wife Megha, who have contributed over $10 million for the pan-India survey.
The sample collection began in March 2016. The survey, the results of which are expected in 2018, aims to cover 120,000 children in the 0-19 age group across all Indian states.
The methodology for the process involves selecting 200-250 houses in each village based on social and economic factors and further narrowing the sample pool to 60-65 houses using statistical methodology. “The survey will help create the right policy interventions to address the root cause of malnourishment,” Unicef nutrition specialist Jee Hyun-rah.
Citing preliminary findings—from 12 states so far— she points out that worm infestation among children is higher than expected or recorded till date. Worm infestation reduces overall absorption of nutrition in the body and is also a cause for anaemia among other conditions.
Vandana Prasad, national convener for Public Health Resource Network, a not-forprofit working on national health issues, says while the study is likely to result in significant insight into research, it may not necessarily translate into public action.
Prasad says a lot of data is already available, even if it is not enough, but action is not always taken. She cites the example of National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) 1, 2, 3 and the latest, 4, conducted in 2015-16, all of which highlight malnutrition among Indians, especially children. She says there seems to be a lack of political will to address the issue.
Prasad says budget cuts for the already minuscule health sector have hit efforts to rid malnutrition. The health budget is just over 1% of the total GDP as compared to the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s poll promise of ensuring 2-3% of the GDP for health, she says.
The National Food Security Act, 2013, that was finalized by the United Progressive Alliance government, is yet to be implemented three years on.
Source: Mint ePaper