World Hunger Day: Dual burden for India; existing under nutrition and under nutrition induced by COVID-19

May 28, 2020 11:23 AM

Undernourishment hinders daily earnings and financial security which further aggravates socio-economic burden of malnutrition, and this perpetuates a long-term pattern of hunger and poverty.

World Hunger Day 2020, starvation, nutrition, malnutrition, universal health coverage,Ensuring sustainable diet diversity at the time of COVID-19 is a huge challenge.

By Dr Sujeet Ranjan and Sahil Sharma

World Hunger Day 2020: Zero starvation and good nutrition have the strength to renovate and inspire the present as well as future generations. Malnutrition (deficiency or excess of nutrients in a diet) remains a major threat to the survival, growth, and development of children. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4, 2015-16) shows that 38.4% of children under 5 years of age are stunted (low height for age), 21% are wasted (low weight for height) and 35.8% are underweight (low weight for age). India is at an important “tipping point” in the context of nutrition and public health. The achievement of POSHAN Abhiyan and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depend on addressing the critical problems of malnutrition in India, which underlies various other public health issues.

Poverty and hunger exist in a vicious cycle. Families living in poverty usually cannot afford nutritious food, leading to undernourishment. Undernourishment hinders daily earnings and financial security which further aggravates socio-economic burden of malnutrition, and this perpetuates a long-term pattern of hunger and poverty that is often passed down from parents to children. And, this failure stops them to afford even basic nutritious food for themselves.

World Hunger Day 2020: How to improve food security

Improving the food security, quality of foods, feeding practices, and enhancing nutrition status of children in the first two years of life represent a critical window of opportunity to break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition. If this critical opportunity is missed, child malnutrition will continue to self-perpetuate – malnourished girls become malnourished women, these women give birth to low birth weight infants and these children suffer from poor nutrition in the first two years of life.

The best opportunity to break this vicious inter-generational cycle is to concentrate efforts on improving the nutrition of infants and young children from conception through the first two years of life.

World Hunger Day 2020: Findings of The Global Nutrition Report

The Global Nutrition Report (GNR) 2020, published on 12 May 2020, is the world’s leading independent assessment of the state of global nutrition. The report stresses upon the urgent need for more equitable, resilient, and sustainable food and health systems. There is a direct linkage between levels of malnutrition and population characteristics like location, age, sex, education, and wealth – while conflict and other forms of fragility compound the problem. Some of the key steps may bring a change in the availability, accessibility, and utilization of quality food by the neediest community.

World Hunger Day and the Importance of Nutrition

Nutrition needs to be integrated into universal health coverage as an indispensable prerequisite for improving diets, saving lives, and reducing healthcare spending. This will make nutrition care collectively accessible as a fundamental, cost-effective, and live-saving health service.

The need of the hour is multi-sectoral programming. Both poverty and hunger, as the two are intrinsically linked and need to be addressed together. The learning from Global Nutrition Report 2020 and our own assessment also indicate that comprehensive national programmes, which adopt a multi-sectoral approach, achieve sustainable improvements in malnutrition.

The focus should be on gender equity, social inclusion, primary education, primary health care services, water and sanitation, agricultural reforms, and local employment to improve incomes.

COVID-19 impact on Health, Nutrition and Livelihoods

Globally, we are facing a truly unprecedented situation. The spread of COVID-19 has impacted the health, nutrition, livelihoods, and wellbeing of India’s most vulnerable populations and will have lasting effects on people.

The impact of malnutrition, especially, among Severely Acute Malnourished (SAM) children in an environment in which health & nutrition services are reduced or destroyed, the caring structures have broken down within society, and trauma is prevalent, increases.

Ensuring sustainable diet diversity at the time of COVID-19 is also a huge challenge as the main goal during the ongoing pandemic is availability of the most basic food first. We can understand that a possible impact would be reduction in the number of meals per day and hence the quantity of food per meal as well. Therefore, the quality and quantity of the right diet would be compromised.

This is the time to actively involve communities and the private sector besides including civil society organizations in a strategic manner that may bring desired nutrition outcomes.

Public-private partnerships can serve to increase funding, strengthen monitoring, and improve programme implementation, especially, at the community level. It is also felt that good governance and accountability are important factors in successfully improving nutrition. This includes superior leadership, strong monitoring practices, time-bound nutrition centred targets, and consistent impact assessments to evaluate the efficacy of the interventions in altering nutrition indicators among the key beneficiaries.

(The columnists are Executive Director, The Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security (CFNS) and Food technologist and public policy consultant at CFS respectively. Views expressed are their own.)

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