Half of India’s children and women suffer from anaemia, situation worsens in Himalayan cold desert; Here’s why

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Updated: Dec 30, 2020 2:54 PM

According to Phase I reports of NFHS Survey more than half the children belonging to age group 6 to 59 months and women aged 15 to 49 years were found anaemic in most of the states.

national heath and family survey report, NFHS report 2019-20, Indian states suffering from Anaemia, causes of anaemia, why hilamalayn cold dessert suffers fron anamia mostA diet that is deficient in essential nutrients like folic acid, iron, vitamin B12 usually causes anaemia. (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Indian women and children are suffering from acute anaemia, says the National Family Health Survey 2019-20 releases by the Health and Family Welfare Ministry earlier this year. The Himalayan cold desert is the worst hit by the condition. Here’s a broader look in the survey findings.

What is anaemia

Anaemia is a condition in which human blood has less than normal count of Red Blood Cells or quantity of haemoglobin, a kind of protein is not adequate. As RBCs carry oxygen to the blood, a deficiency in its count results in feeling tired, irritable, dizzy, short of breath and cold. A diet that is deficient in essential nutrients like folic acid, iron, vitamin B12 usually causes anaemia. Other conditions like a blood disorder, cancer, heavy periods, infectious diseases or genetic factors can also cause anaemia.

How pre-dominant is anaemia in India?

According to Phase I reports of NFHS Survey more than half the children belonging to age group 6 to 59 months and women aged 15 to 49 years were found anaemic in most of the states. 15 out of 22 states and Union Territories that the report is covering had more than 50 per cent women and children anaemic and in 14 of these states, half of the women are anaemic.

Most Northeastern states like Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland other than Kerala in the south, Gujarat and West Bengal in the West and East respectively and Ladakh and Lakshadweep among the UTs are a comparatively lower number of people hit by anaemia. Anaemia among men was less than 30 per cent here.

How NFHS determines the extent to which anaemia has hit states

Capillary blood collected from respondents is used for anaemia estimation. Children with a haemoglobin level less than 11 gm/decilitre are considered anaemic while for non-pregnant and pregnant women the standard mark is 12 g/dl and 11g/dl respectively. The parameters are adjusted to altitude for children and to altitude and smoking habits among adults.

Why there is a prevalence of anaemia in the country?

Dr Sunil Raina, head of community medicine at Dr Rajendra Prasad Government Medical College in Himachal Pradesh said that women suffer from anaemia more than men because of blood loss due to menstruation and in pregnant women for the iron requirement of the growing foetus. Vitamin B12 and iron deficiency are the two most common reasons for anaemia he put forward.

Raina further opined that overdependency of the Indian food habits towards rice and wheat, leaving out iron-rich millets, insufficient intake of green vegetables, shifting trend towards processed and packaged food low in nutrients are some of the reasons behind the problem of anaemia being so predominant in India.

He also pointed out that the anaemia level in India has been high consistently post-independence and even with green revolution has not dropped significantly raising concerns a need of deeper research that takes into account environmental factors and genetic factors as well. He further suggested that India should not comply with western norms as in India women with haemoglobin level at 6-8 g/dl sometimes are well off.

Why anaemia is more prevalent in cold desert region of western Himalayas?

In Ladakh, surprisingly, 92.8 per cent women, 92.5 per cent children and 76 per cent men are anaemic, reveals the survey. In nearby Lahaul and Spiti districts in the Himachal Pradesh as well the levels are high; 91 per cent for children and 82 per cent for women. In the rest of the Himachal and Jammu and Kashmir, the anaemia level is comparatively low.

According to health officials, shortage of fresh vegetables and fruits during winters when it becomes geographically remote can be the result behind lack of nutrition and low haemoglobin levels. Crops here are generally grown in summers but in winters due to snowbound roads, supple of fresh crops gets restricted causing such health conditions. The study also says there could be other factors as well that are yet to be scientifically ascertained.

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