Unaware of the covid-19 pandemic, four-year-old Jamuni, a malnourished girl in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh, is worried that her primary school has been closed for the last 20 days. Her worry revolves around missing the mid-day meals served in her school.
Her parents, daily wage workers hard hit by the crisis, have no answer for her hunger or her questions. One of the fallouts of the covid-19 containment measures, including the closure of primary schools and anganwadi centres, is that children in rural India now have to do without that one guaranteed school meal, potentially worsening an already “severe” malnutrition problem in India.
The problem continues even as the women and child development ministry on Tuesday wrote to all states and union territories to ensure that children don’t suffer from the lockdown.
Even though the government has ordered state authorities to ensure provision of take-home rations as well as cash allowance during the lockdown, efforts to tackle acute malnutrition could still take a hit.
“Offices have been closed down with complete restriction of movement. It has been challenging in a way as all anganwadi centres are closed. Keeping track of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) children is being difficult,” Dr Chandrakant S. Pandav, a member of the National Council for India Nutritional Challenges, National Nutrition Mission, Poshan Abhiyan said.
“Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) will fall in SAM category. Because of lack of immunity in SAM children, they will be more vulnerable to this virus. India might see surprising increase in maternal and neonatal/child mortality due to the system being completely focused on covid-19 and resource allocation transfer for the same,” said Panda.
As per the National Food Security Act, 2013 provision of nutrition to the beneficiaries of anganwadi services is a legal entitlement. Currently, the government has ordered the closure of all Anganwadi Centres in urban, rural and tribal projects to check coronavirus transmission. Take-home ration (THR) is being provided instead of hot cooked meals. Anganwadi workers have been directed to anganwadi centres only to receive the THR packets and to distribute them.
“Malnutrition among children within such lockdown situations can be directly traced back to inadequate dietary intake and disease. Both chronic and acute malnutrition will reduce children’s resistance to common endemic diseases and thus increase morbidity, physical disability, and mortality, in addition to affecting growth and development. All of these factors have a serious negative impact on their future social and economic wellbeing,” Dr Sujeet Ranjan, Executive Director, The Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security , an advocacy firm for better nutrition policy and programmes said.
Experts say the world has seen many disease outbreaks, but one thing is common to all: loss of life and a global health and nutrition crisis.
Ranjan maintained that for children, nutritional status depends not only on the food available within the household, but also on the priorities of the family, knowledge of available foods and how to make the best use of these foods within the family.
THR availability is a big concern for the field workers under Community Management Acute Malnutrition (CMAM). “If CMAM isn’t there, it would be tough to accommodate complicated malnourished kids in hospital and malnourishment rate could go higher,” Lekhchandra Tripathi, Project Consultant, Banda Suposhan Karyakaram said.