Child malnutrition is a biggest challenge our country is facing today even when the economy is said to surging ahead. Every second child under three in the country is malnourished.The number for under five children is 55 million which is two and half times the population of Australia.35% of the world's malnourished children live in India. Half the number of child deaths takes place due to malnutrition which could be prevented. The situation has not seen an improvement between the reports of the National Family Health Survey III in 2007 and NFHS II seven years earlier.
It is a known fact that malnutrition can affect economic productivity and the ability to make decisions. Experts say that unless the problem is addressed on a war footing it will lower the country's GDP growth rate by 2-3%.One of the reasons why the issue has remained unaddressed is because it is not high on national agenda. There has been no determined action.
The problem of child malnutrition starts long before the child is born. The age at which a woman marries has a bearing on the foetus. So does her nutritional intake during pregnancy and after she gives birth. Her educational status will decide whether she goes in for institutional deliveries which prevent infections, the importance she attaches to hygiene and to immunization of her child. Her nutrition, health and education and her status in the family and the community determine whether the child is malnourished or not. It is not possible to address the problem of child malnutrition unless the condition of the woman is improved.
The Indian figures are worse than the malnutrition rates prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa even though those countries have known for famine, poverty and political instability. In the world 40% of the low weight babies (below 2.5kg) are from India. One of the major causes of low birth weight babies in India is the high incidences of anaemia among women.
Recent studies have shown that the damage is done by the time a child reaches the age of two. The critical age-group is 0-2 and it is this group that needs the maximum attention. The governments focus needs to shift to address the nutritional and survival issues related to this group.
The issue of child malnutrition needs attention from all levels. From political will to pressure from civil societies and communities themselves.