New Delhi, (IANS) Expressing concern that 42 percent of India’s children were underweight, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Tuesday that levels of under-nutrition were “unacceptably high” despite GDP growth and labelled malnutrition a “national shame”.
Addressing a gathering here at the release of a malnutrition report ‘HUNGaMA’ (Hunger and Malnutrition), the prime minister said: “The results of this survey are both worrying and encouraging.”
“As I have said earlier and I repeat that 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. We have also not succeeded in reducing this rate fast enough,” he said.
Underlining that the health of the country’s economy and society lies in the health of its children, Manmohan Singh said: “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.”
“However, what concerns me is that 42 percent of our children are still underweight. This is an unacceptably high occurrence,” he said.
The prime minister complimented the Citizen’s Alliance against Malnutrition, Nandi Foundation, Mahindra & Mahindra and other partners and supporters for carrying out the survey.
“I understand that the surveyors have reached more than 73,000 households in 112 districts across nine states. To measure more than one lakh children and talk to 74,000 mothers is indeed an extraordinary accomplishment.”
He said there were nearly 16 crore children in the country below the age of six years and, in the years to come, these children would join the work force as scientists, farmers, teachers, data operators, artisans, service providers.
Highlighting the need for various sectors to work together to fight malnutrition, Manmohan Singh said: “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.”
“These sectors 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.”
“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,” he said.
“Though the ICDS (integrated child development services) 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.”
According to the prime minister, it was 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 and the survey had broadly validated these hypotheses.