More than 75 per cent women between the ages of 15 and 49, and 73 per cent children between the ages of 6 and 59 months are anaemic in Chandigarh, according to data from the National Family Health Survey-4. This percentage is much higher than the national average of 51 per cent anaemic women, and 58 per cent anaemic children in India.
Even the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana have a lower number of women and children suffering from anaemia. In Punjab, 56.6 per cent children and 53.5 per cent women, and in Haryana 56.1 per cent women and 72.3 per cent children are anaemic.
Under Poshan Abhiyan or the National Nutrition Mission, the Chandigarh Administration launched “Mission Anaemia-free Chandigarh” on September 6 in order to battle anaemia through an intervention in the nutritional habits of the city’s population. Most recently, officials from the Poshan Abhiyan have initiated a programme to counsel husbands and mothers-in-law of anaemic women.
“A child will eat only what the mother provides and eats herself. Further, often what the mother eats depends on what her husband and in-laws allow her to eat, or what their dietary preferences are. Hence she is unable to make her own decisions when it comes to her health,” says Parminder Kaur, an Anganwadi supervisor from the city.
According to Kaur, even after being tested for anaemia, counselled on nutrition and given iron and folic acid tablets, women do not inculcate corrective dietary habits because of the influence of their families. “As part of our Jan Andolan, or community-based events, we have started calling and counselling women’s families, especially husbands and mothers-in-law and schooling them on the ways in which they can take care of their wives or daughters-in-law,” says Kaur.
Previously, officials from the Poshan Abhiyan launched the “T3” campaign, abbreviated from the three steps identified by experts — talking, testing and treating — to alleviate and prevent anaemia in the city. “As part of the T3 campaign, we make sure we hold awareness workshops regarding anaemia. We hold health camps to check anaemia, and once identified, we treat women and children who are anaemic, by providing extra nutrition and guiding them on how to improve their food habits to increase iron absorption in their body,” says Sarita Godwani, a consultant from Poshan Abhiyan in Chandigarh.
In order to increase the accuracy of anaemia tests, the UT authorities have also purchased haemoglobin meters that are used by Anganwadi workers, as well as by a team of doctors from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, who have aided Poshan Abhiyan officials in setting up health camps to test women and children for anaemia.
Policies of the Poshan Abhiyan as well as the guidelines of the Integrated Child Protection and Development Scheme (ICPDS) mandate that frontline health workers, including anganwadi workers and ASHA workers, focus on the health and development of pregnant women, adolescent girls, young mothers and children up to the age of six. “We focus especially on checking adolescent girls and young mothers because if you keep their hemoglobin levels in check, you will also ensure that the children they produce in the future are not anaemic and keep the vicious cycle of anaemia in check,” claims Godwani.
Apart from providing counselling to women and their families, anganwadis in the city conduct recipe-making competitions every month in order to motivate women to come up with recipes for iron-rich and affordable food that can be made using local produce.
“The more we move away from our local and traditional eating habits, the more poorly it reflects on our nutritional intake,” says Dr Bhavneet Bharti, who is part of the team of doctors from PGIMER working with Poshan Abhiyan in Chandigarh. “At the end of the day, we just need to guide everyone to take a diet full of leafy vegetables and meat, so as to increase absorption of iron in their bodies,” adds Bharti.
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