In an effort to address the problem of malnutrition in women and children, the third Rashtriya Poshan Maah is being celebrated in September 2020.
The target of POSHAN Abhiyaan, an initiative of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, is to bring down stunting in children of 0-6 years of age from 38.4 per cent to 25 per cent by 2022.
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the POSHAN Abhiyaan, which was launched in 2018, will be celebrated through digital platforms.
A recent report by the UNICEF stated that the COVID-19 crisis could increase the severe acute malnourished burden in India. The report said that a staggering 6.7 million additional children under the age of five could suffer from wasting - lower weight for height - and therefore become severely undernourished in 2020. This, the report said, is due to the disruption of food systems and impeded access to healthcare services amid the pandemic.
"It is increasingly clear that the repercussions of the pandemic are causing more harm to children than the disease itself," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a press release.
"Household poverty and food insecurity rates have increased. Essential nutrition services and supply chains have been disrupted. Food prices have soared. As a result, the quality of children's diets has gone down and malnutrition rates will go up," Fore added.
Wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition, makes children too thin and weak, putting them at greater risk of dying, poor growth, development and learning. The report added that before the pandemic itself, 47 million children were already wasted in 2019.
"Without urgent action, the global number of children suffering from wasting could reach almost 54 million over the course of the year. This would bring global wasting to levels not seen this millennium," the report added.
In India, there are 9.3 million children below the age of five who have severe acute malnutrition (SAM) According to the data by the fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS) (2015-16), while as many as 35.7 per cent of children under five years of age are underweight, 38.4 per cent children are stunted (low height for age). In addition, 21 per cent are wasted (low weight for height).
Furthermore, malnutrition could aggravate the effects of the coronavirus in others and children, according to experts.
The POSHAN Abhiyaan comes as an effort to reduce anaemia among women and adolescent girls in the age group of 15-49 years and reduce low birth weight.
The Poshan Maah will focus on two activities at the grassroots level - the identification of Severely Acute Malnourished (SAM) Children and their management and plantation of Poshan Vaatikas - Nutri gardens.
In addition, awareness generation regarding the importance of early breastfeeding, need for good nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life, measures for reducing anaemia in young women and children etc. will be carried out.
"Rashtriya Poshan Maah 2020 is an opportunity to create maximum awareness about the problem of malnutrition and reinforce the movement to achieve holistic nutrition under POSHAN Abhiyaan," Dr Sujeet Ranjan, executive director, Coalition of Food and Nutrition Security, told The Indian Express.
"Poshan Maah is inspiring and shows that we can make progress in a relatively short span of time with the right strategies and commitment. In the current crisis…it becomes even more pertinent to address…with multi-pronged and multi-sectoral actions. Community participation and responsibility through interventions such as Jan Andolan and Jan Bhagidari have power to break the 'Culture of Silence' for nutrition outcomes," he added.
Meanwhile, on the occasion of the third 'Rashtriya Poshan Maah on Monday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah appealed to everyone to take a pledge to work towards making India malnutrition-free.
In a series of tweets, Shah said that 'Poshan Abhiyaan' is a robust scheme which has been playing a significant role in eradicating malnutrition from the country. He added that for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the adequate nutrition for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers has always been a priority.
"This POSHAN Maah 2020, PM Narendra Modi's Govt will focus on an intensive campaign across the country for the holistic nourishment of children with severe acute malnutrition. To further strengthen this scheme, let us all take a pledge & contribute towards a malnutrition-free India," the Home Minister said.
Meanwhile, several state governments have undertaken steps to fight malnutrition in women and children.
In Uttar Pradesh, the government on Tuesday signed an MoU with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) as part of a project through which around 3,000 women's self-help groups (SHGs) will provide take-home rations to Anganwadi centres.
These rations are fortified supplementary food products given to children under the age of six years, and pregnant and lactating women under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
The project, which will be undertaken in 204 development blocks in 18 districts, is part of the convergence of the UP Rural Livelihood Mission and the ICDS scheme to facilitate the production of "nutritious food" by the micro-enterprises operated by the SHGs.
Similarly, in an effort to provide nutritious food to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy on Monday launched two nutrition schemes 'YSR Sampoorna Poshana' and 'YSR Sampoorna Poshana Plus'.
Speaking on the occasion, the CM said that around 30.16 lakh mothers and children will benefit from the two schemes.
While more than 52.9 per cent of the pregnant women across the state are suffering from acute anaemia, 31.9 per cent of children are having low birth weight. Furthermore, 31.4 per cent of the children in the state are suffering from stunted growth.
While YSR Sampoorna Poshana Plus will supply nutritious food exclusively in 77 Tribal areas covering 8,320 Anganwadi Centres, YSR Sampoorna Poshana will cover the remaining urban and rural areas lying in plain lands.
Under the plan which will cost the state government ₹1,863 crore per annum, as many as 30,16,000 pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children belonging to BPL families are expected to be benefited.