Leadership must ‘reaffirm’ its commitment to fight malnutrition during pandemic, say experts

It must act decisively against disruption in health, social protection services, they say[Or]Dipa Sinha: Food insecurity rising, can’t be business as usual

The country’s leadership must ‘reaffirm’ its commitment to fight malnutrition during the pandemic and “act decisively” to ensure that health and nutrition goals are part of COVID-19 response plan, urged various stakeholders from the nutrition community on Wednesday.

They were speaking at an event held to mark 1,000 days since the launch of the Poshan Abhiyaan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March 2018 in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. Experts from among research and advocacy groups, technical and implementation partners — which include International Food Policy Research Institute, UNICEF, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Tata Trusts, Right to Food Campaign — gathered to renew their Commitment to Action on nutrition as part of the Coalition of Food and Nutrition Security (CFNS) which was founded by Dr M.S. Swaminathan in 2007.

Also read: Awareness campaigns on Poshan Abhiyaan launched

“There is a real danger of a huge surge in malnutrition resulting from disruption in health, nutrition and social protection services. We are seeing this already. though many services are limping back to normal, it may take time to reach pre-COVID-19 levels of coverage,” said Rajan Sankar, Director Nutrition, Tata Trusts. He appealed, “We urge the leadership to act decisively, ensure that targeting health and nutrition goals are within the broader COVID-19 response policy response plans.”

Experts lauded the government for its commitment to nutrition through the launch of Poshan Abhiyaan in 2017 but expressed concerns that the government’s focus and dedication had waned during the pandemic when in fact these should be intensified because of rising levels of hunger and vulnerabilities.

“There is no time to lose. We had achieved a lot with Poshan Abhiyaan and we can’t afford backsliding on the momentum,” said Sujeet Ranjan, Executive Director, CFNS.

Also read: Poshan Abhiyaan targets are aspirational: Study

“COVID-19 has led to unprecedented diversity of crises — be it education, social safety net programmes, poverty. Nutrition is an economic, development and human right issue,” emphasised Dr. Purnima Menon, Senior Research Fellow, IFPRI. She also highlighted the need for data on nutrition gathered by the government to be made public, seemingly referring to data gathered through anganwadi workers and logged by them in smartphones under Poshan Abhiyaan.

Right to Food Campaign’s Dipa Sinha called for strengthening implementation of existing platforms to fight food insecurity.

Also read: Stepping out of the shadow of India’s malnutrition

“Post pandemic, hunger persists. In a recent survey we conducted among 4,000 people in 11 States and found that a large chunk of people were forced to reduce the quantity and quality of food they consume as compared to their consumption pre-COVID-19. Therefore, it is necessary we strengthen our programmes and platforms such as mid-day meals, ICDS and PDS to ameliorate greater vulnerability due to the pandemic. It can’t be business as usual,” Ms. Sinha said.

Also read | India fares poorly in hunger index

The Commitment to Action launched in September, and renewed on Wednesday, comprises a six-point agenda, which includes sustained leadership for food and nutrition security, uninterrupted universal and high-quality nutrition interventions, adequate financing and accelerating efforts to address food security, including dietary diversity and access to adequate micronutrients, primary health care, safe drinking water etc. It also calls for addressing gender issues pertaining to women’s education and delaying age of conception and greater investment in data systems and its usage to inform policy decisions and intervention.


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