PM terms malnutrition as national shame

New Delhi: Terming the problem of malnutrition in the country as national shame, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the government cannot rely solely on the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) to tackle it.

"…the problem of malnutrition is a matter of national shame. Despite impressive growth in our GDP, the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high," Singh said releasing a report on Hunger and Malnutrition here.

Pointing out that India had not succeeded in reducing the levels of malnutrition fast enough, he said, "Though the ICDS continues to be our most important tool to fight malnutrition, we can no longer rely solely on it." "We need to focus on districts where malnutrition levels are high and where conditions causing malnutrition prevail," Singh said.

He said that policy makers and programme implementers need to clearly understand many linkages-between education and health, sanitation and hygiene, drinking water and nutrition and then shape their responses accordingly.

Singh pointed out that the survey reports high levels of malnutrition, but it also indicates that one child in five has reached an acceptable healthy weight during the last seven years in 100 focus districts. "This 20 per cent decline in malnourishment in the last seven years is better than the rate of decline reported in National Family Health Survey-III," he said. "However, what concerns me is that 42 per cent of our children are still underweight. This is an unacceptably high occurrence," he said.

The report, on the survey conducted by Naandi Foundation, has been made at the insistence of the Citizens` Alliance against Malnutrition.

Singh said sectors like health, sanitation, drinking water and nutrition can no longer work in isolation of each other. "Health professionals cannot solely concentrate on curative care. Drinking water and sanitation providers cannot be oblivious to the positive externality of their actions," he said.

"The school teacher needs to be aware of the nutritional needs of the adolescent girl. And above all, the Anganwadi workers should be aware of their contribution to nation building by focusing on the care of our young citizens," Singh said.

The Prime Minister said he had always believed that a mother`s education level, economic status of the family, sanitation and hygiene, status of women in the family, breastfeeding and other good child rearing practices affect children`s nutrition. The survey has broadly validated these hypotheses, he said.

The Citizen`s Alliance against Malnutrition comprises young parliamentarians, artistes, directors, social activists and policy makers.

Among those present at the function to release the report at the Prime Minister`s residence included filmmaker-turned-MP Shyam Benegal, actor Rahul Bose, singer Penaz Masani, MPs Jay Panda, Jyoti Mirdha, Madhu Yaski Goud, Shahnawaz Hussain, and Union Minister Sachin Pilot.

The Prime Minister said his government was working to launch a strengthened and restructured ICDS; to start a multi-sectoral programme for 200 high burden districts and to initiate a nationwide communication campaign against malnutrition.