ONLY 13 PER cent children aged below six consume the minimum required level of full diet in Palghar, according to the latest study by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to understand the magnitude of malnutrition in tribal pockets of the district.
The study is indicative of how government schemes are unable to arrest malnourishment. Of the number of children surveyed, 59 per cent were estimated to be stunted, prevalence of wasting found in 20 per cent and 53 per cent children underweight.
Anganwadis fail to monitor nutrition schemes
As of November 2018, figures from Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) show that Palghar has 37,272 underweight children, of which 5,752 are severely underweight. To curb malnourishment, 2,577 centres in Palghar, called anganwadis, are supposed to provide take-home rations to children, free breakfast and lunch daily, provide meals to pregnant and lactating mothers under APJ Abdul Kalam Amrut Ahar Yojna, and provide six meals a day to malnourished children.But, not all anganwadis are prompt in their services. Of 105 posts for supervisors to monitor anganwadis, only 77 posts are filled. Also, villages are located far from each other.
Between April and June 2017, the school of health systems studies at TISS surveyed 375 tribal hutments with children aged under six, including 166 boys and 209 girls, in Vikramgad block of Palghar district.
The study, published in Public Library of Science One on Wednesday, found that 22 per cent mothers of the surveyed children first got pregnant when they were aged below 18. At least 38.7 per cent of those surveyed had no toilets, forcing open defecation, that is directly linked to stunting. Only one in 375 children surveyed consumed milk and 3 per cent children ate eggs. “The consumption of green leafy vegetables, a good source of iron, was rare and only 9 per cent children ate them,” the study stated.
It further states that in 2005, 718 children in the district died from complications of malnourishment. This declined to 600 in 2016, a marginal drop in a decade.
The study has come amidst claims by the state government of a drop in malnourishment in Palghar due to “sustained efforts”. The surveyors’ analysis of the Maharashtra Budget showed that the percentage of expenditure on nutrition declined from 1.68 per cent in 2012-13 to 0.94 per cent in 2018-19.
The study observed, “While the state’s per capita income has doubled since 2004 as a result of sustained high economic growth, its nutritional status has not made commensurate progress during this period.”
“Most mothers reported that their children ate rice and dal in all meals. We have eight food groups such as fruits, nuts, dairy products, flesh food, eggs and green vegetables. Most kids ate only two food groups,” said Soumitra Ghosh from the school of health systems studies, who co-authored the study with Sarika Varerkar, who is attached with TISS public health.
Ghosh added, “The study shows we need to move from food security to nutrition security. The government programmes are not helping.”
Children from Konkona, Katkri, and Thakur tribes were found to be at higher risk of stunting than the Malhar tribe in Palghar. “We need more research to assess reasons, but these three tribes were found to be more vulnerable and food insecure. Katkari tribes are mainly engaged in stone cutting,” said Ghosh.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) in 2015-16 shows that stunting declined by 11.9 per cent since 2005-06, but wasting increased in the same period by 9.1 per cent in state. “Prevalence of undernutrition in Maharashtra is worse than some of the world’s poorest countries such as Bangladesh (33 per cent underweight), Afghanistan (25 per cent underweight) or Mozambique (15 per cent),” the study noted.