50% children in rural M’lya stunted: Study

State logs highest increase in stunting among NE states

From CK Nayak

NEW DELHI, Nov 9: Meghalaya has recorded the highest increase in the percentage of stunted children (under-five) among the northeastern states with one in two children suffering from anaemia in all 12 districts.
This was revealed in a survey by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and Vitamin Angels India from 2015-16 to 2019-20.
The survey unearthed the challenge in terms of healthcare delivery in the Northeast, which is home to more than 220 ethnic groups and large tribal populations spread sparsely across remote areas.
With almost 50% stunted children in rural areas, Meghalaya emerged as the worst performer in the region. Urban Meghalaya performed better with a stunting rate of 35.1%.
Sikkim, the best performer, recorded 25% stunting among children under 5 years of age in rural areas and 15% in urban areas.
Along with Manipur and Tripura, Meghalaya recorded a sharp rise across all indicators of child mortality. The highest increase was in Tripura.
Statistically, Meghalaya had the most (46.5%) and Sikkim (22.3%) the least cases of child stunting.
The paper also revealed that among the northeastern states, Assam, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagaland witnessed a notable reduction in infant and child mortality rates from 2015-16 to 2019-20.
Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, and Assam saw an increase in the cases of wasting among children.
The study makes several critical recommendations for improvement and remedial measures. Factors such as poor maternal health, lack of antenatal care facilities, poor feeding, insufficient infrastructure and healthcare facilities, lower uptake of nutritional programmes, and remoteness of the region contributed to the statistics, the survey said.
The paper was authored by Shoba Suri (senior fellow, ORF), Priya Rampal (consultant, Oxford Policy Management), and Shruti Menon (national program manager, VA). It builds on data from National Family Health Survey, the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey, India SRS Special Bulletin on Maternal Mortality, and reports from organisations such as FAO, UNICEF, WHO and World Bank.
Both ORF and VA are reputed NGOs working in the field of women and child nutrition among others.
Among the northeastern states, Tripura recorded a sharp rise across all indicators for child mortality, stunting, and anaemia in under-five children and women of reproductive age. The practice of institutional delivery has increased in all the states barring Meghalaya and Nagaland where it remains well below the all-India figure, the survey showed.
The paper makes several critical recommendations given the large inter-state and inter-district variations in the status of malnutrition among children and women in the region, as well as the region’s performance compared to the national average.
But the percentage of underweight children has declined across all eight northeastern states between NFHS-4 and NFHS-5. Still, in every case, the fall is below the national average.
The paper calls for a holistic approach to malnutrition in the Northeast to fill gaps in healthcare and nutrition while leveraging the region’s agricultural biodiversity and the traditional knowledge of its tribal populations.
The paper also explores the dietary practices of women and children with a special focus on the region’s tribal populations.
Menon, underscoring the importance of the study, said: “The in-depth analysis of the statistics on the key nutrition indicators in the Northeast show high degrees of inter-state and inter-district variations. To effectively combat malnutrition in the region, we need a holistic approach that focuses on strengthening existing health projects under Poshan Abhiyan and optimising delivery mechanisms of nutrition interventions, especially among hard-to-reach, vulnerable populations.”

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