NEW DELHI: The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted optimal care for children, especially those who are malnourished and dependent on state help, according to an UNICEF report. It said the outbreak may deepen the problem of malnutrition in the country, with massive disruptions in continuity of food availability and livelihoods anticipated.
The report took account of malnutrition programmes running in 12 states in India.
It highlighted that while states are waiting for the guidelines to be issued by the ministry of women and child development on community-based management of children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM), they are using their own funds to roll out welfare schemes.
“Although community mobilisation strategies are developed, activities are rarely implemented as planned due to a lack of convergence between government departments, with proposed actors engaged by other activities,” said the report, adding that equipment for screening of malnourishment in children is often faulty.
The UNICEF has said there is an urgent need to bring management of severe acute malnutrition into the fold of essential health and nutrition services and to ensure continuity of services for the management of child wasting.
“One of the key mandates for Poshan Abhiyaan has been to propel the convergence lever forward so as to positively integrate and influence maternal child nutrition and well-being,” said Dr Shweta Khandelwal, head, Nutrition Research and Additional Professor, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a PPP initiative for public health.
“Coherent policy action – right from sectors like health, nutrition, environment, WASH, urban and rural development, education, finance etc. – needs to be implemented at all levels with participatory approach. For this awareness, sensitisation and buy-in from local masses are extremely critical,” she said.
According to the Global Nutrition Report 2020, malnutrition remains one of India’s biggest challenges. Also, malnutrition was the biggest risk factor for death in children less than five years of age in every state of India in 2017, accounting for 68.2% of total such deaths, according to data released in 2019.
As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) – 4 (2015-16), conducted by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 35.7% children under five years of age are underweight and 38.4% are stunted, and 21% wasted.
The UNICEF has said that during covid-19 pandemic, frontline workers should follow standard hygiene practices before and after interacting with every mother and child. The frontline worker should wear a triple layered surgical mask and all service providers (AWW, AWH, ANM, ASHA) should practice respiratory etiquettes by coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue, then immediately disposing off the tissue, the report recommended.