By Nachiket Kondhalkar
The National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog unveiled the ‘National Nutrition Strategy’ on Tuesday. It aims to ensure that every child, adolescent girl, and woman attain optimal nutritional status by 2022. The NITI Aayog has suggested setting up a steering group for monitoring the progress of the mission. This group will report directly to PM Modi.
NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant described malnutrition among children as “India’s biggest governance failure”, saying that one-third of the world’s stunted children live in India. The document lays a roadmap for targeted action to address India’s nutritional needs. NITI Aayog has also been tasked with monitoring the governance of the strategy.
Initiating surveillance on malnutrition
The strategy envisages a framework that will focus on improvement in health, food, drinking water, sanitation, income and livelihoods. Currently, 50% of pregnant women and 60% of children in the country are estimated to be anaemic. The ministries of Women & Child Development (WCD) and Health & Family Welfare, along with other departments, are working alongside the NITI Aayog. In a new approach to tracking malnutrition, they plan to focus on high malnutrition areas and put in place a digital surveillance system.
Phase I (2017-18) will cover 254 districts and identified urban areas; in Phase II (2018-19) will cover an additional 254 districts totalling 508 districts, and Phase III (2019-20) will cover the remaining districts based on needs assessment and performance.
Once nutrition is provided under various programmes, the government will conduct Nutrition Social Audits to track the children and their health progress. Hence, Aadhar cards may be used to monitor, track and distribute aid where needed. Furthermore, at the national and state levels, a website and necessary apps will be created for the purpose.
The vicious cycle of malnutrition
Nearly one out of every three children in India is malnourished—underweight (35.7%) or stunted (38.4%). 21% of children under five years are emaciated, as per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16. Moreover, the NFHS-4 data indicates that every second child is anaemic (58.4%).
There is an intergenerational cycle of malnutrition due to various factors. These include poverty, social exclusion and gender discrimination, among others. This problem is further compounded by lack of transport systems and hospitals. Lack of awareness and social responsibility resume their status quo. When a pregnant mother does not receive proper nutrition during her pregnancy, it impacts the entire development of the baby. Further, this malnutrition continues into their infancy, and beyond, due to lack of awareness or access to the required food.
Enhancing resource availability
As per the document, the states will be asked to create customised, district specific action plans with a greater role for rural and urban local bodies. The focus will be on decentralising, planning and local innovation. NITI Aayog will monitor the nutrition outcomes through various digital tools like cameras and daily reports.
WCD minister Maneka Gandhi will head the steering group. Additionally, ministers from states with high burden districts will become members on a rotational basis. Other members will include secretaries of WCD, finance ministry, health, Panchayati Raj, rural development, drinking water supply and food.
The aim is to enhance resource availability of the states and to prioritise focused interventions with a greater role for panchayats and urban local bodies. This strategy enables states to make choices through decentralised planning and local innovation, with an accountability for nutrition outcomes. Although the strategy looks good on paper, the key lies in its implementation. It would require coordinating bodies to be set up at the district and village levels to provide support for effective implementation, monitoring and supervision of the programme. It will also need quick adaptation—without getting stuck in red tape.
The NITI Aayog seems to be taking proactive steps to develop India using new and innovative strategies. It remains to be seen whether these plans will bear fruit.
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