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80% of Kids Below Five Are Malnourished In Bihar

25 January 2012

PM Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said levels of under-nutrition in the country were “unacceptably high” despite impressive GDP growth, and did not hesitate in accepting that malnutrition is a national shame.The pronouncement resonates in the state even though several health indicators have shown an upward trend, including high vaccination percentage, for which chief minister Nitish Kumar became the first recipient of the Gates Vaccine Innovation Award

Though several initiatives have been launched to address malnutrition, particularly among children, adolescent girls and pregnant women, Bihar accounts for nearly 58% malnutrition among children, which is above the national average of 46%. The situation gets compounded as 80% of children below five years of age are malnourished. Again, around 2/3rd women in child bearing age are malnourished in the state, the highest in the country. The figures entail a simple and clear message – a greater effort is required to remove the malady.

High incidence of malnutrition among children can be attributed to several factors which include low intake of nutritious food, non-availability of quality health services, absence of adequate community workers, low institutional delivery and non-access to cheap medicines. These apart, social practices such as early marriage and pregnancy and lack of breastfeeding, too, contribute to higher malnutrition rate in the state. There are other hindrances, too, that include low birth weight babies, non-spacing of children and anaemia among women.

However, state health department has initiated several measures recently to combat malnutrition. Says health secretary Sanjay Kumar, “A three-pronged strategy has been unveiled in the state to combat malnutrition.”

First, he said, a 30-bed nutritional rehabilitation centre (NRC) is running in all the 38 districts of the state, primarily focusing on acute malnourished children. Second, programmes are being run under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), run by the department of social welfare, which include those aiming to change behavioural patterns related to early marriage, non-spacing of children and lack of breastfeeding.

Third, the health department has launched micronutrient programmes, which include providing vitamin A capsules and iron supplements, improved diet for pregnant women along with advocating the benefits of consumption of iodized salt. The programme running at every health sub-centre across the state aims to counter malnourishment which is a major challenge facing the state, admits Kumar.

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