IIT-BOMBAY, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the NGO Sneha and Sion hospital are partnering in an experiment in Dharavi to eliminate malnourishment in 300 severely undernourished children across the slum. In six months, the ICDS will be able to take a call on whether to replace its standard supplementary nutrition for children — “Take Home Ration” (THR) — with a new nutritious meal. The THR, provided in the form of upma or shira, has already been widely rejected by tribal as well as urban children who dislike its taste and have refused to eat the free government-funded food despite no alternatives.
Mumbai has 51,934 undernourished children, of which 2,886 suffer from severely acute malnourishment, according to data until August from the ICDS. Dharavi houses 2,174 malnourished children. Other hotspots in Mumbai are Shivaji Nagar, Mankhurd, Goregaon East and Santacruz East, all of which carry a huge migratory population burden. In Dharavi’s 300 anganwadis, ICDS has now selected the 300 most critical children who will be given an alternate meal every day for three months and then will be followed up with for three more months to check improvement in their weight.
“We will provide them with a meal of 100-150 gms every day in addition to the free breakfast and lunch served at the anganwadi. According to the children’s weight and age, seven different recipes have been prepared,” said Bapurao Bhavane, the nodal ICDS officer in Dharavi. The idea to provide a meal tastier than THR was the brainchild of IIT-B, which is also sponsoring this programme. “Most mothers refuse to take the THR. They say the kids don’t like its taste,” said supervisor Sandhya Pavnivar.
The new meal — a mixture of soyabean, urad, moong, chana, wheat and other ingredients — will cost Rs 12 per child per day and has been prepared with a taste that will be appealing to children below six years of age. At Sion hospital’s Nutrition Rehabilitation and Training Center (NRTC), where malnourished children from Dharavi are taken for treatment, a ‘medical nutrition therapy’ has been available since 2010. At the cost of Rs 25 per cup, it is 100 gms of food with protein, iron, zinc, calcium and other minerals. Most importantly, its taste has been made child-friendly. “In 2013, we served these cups to 100 malnourished children in Jawahar and saw over 60 per cent children recover faster from severe acute malnourishment,” said Dr Alka Jadhav, head of pediatrics at Sion hospital.
“Ensuring that urban children don’t eat junk food and shift to nutritious meals is essential to control malnutrition,” said dietician Disha Gade. NRTC is currently the city’s only rehab center for malnourished children. It receives between 30 to 40 children every day. According to experts, more such centers are urgently needed in suburbs where families cannot travel long distances to admit their child in Sion.