It’ll benefit 94 million kids; coordinate functioning of both nutrition schemes.
Today’s children are the future of tomorrow, and so it’s important they have access to nutritious food right from birth through adolescence. However, India ranks 10th in terms of prevalence of underweight children in the world and 17th in terms of prevalence of stunting, according to UNICEF. To ensure that malnutrition doesn’t affect children’s cognitive development or physical growth, the ministry of women & child development (MWCD) approved the Poshan Abhiyaan (National Nutrition Mission) last year.
The initiative seeks to reduce the level of stunting, undernutrition and low birth weight by 2% each, and anaemia by 3%. It aims to reduce stunting from 38.4% (NFHS-4) to 25% by 2022. Its goal is to achieve improvement in nutritional status of children aged 0-6 years, adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers in a time-bound manner, over three years. Poshan Abhiyaan, as a policy strengthening the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), is a boon towards addressing child and maternal malnutrition.
A key idea of the initiative is to incentivise Anganwadi Workers (AWs) for using ICT-based tools, making it easier to implement and monitor the programme.
Earlier, AWs would keep beneficiary records and indicators related to the provision of services in registers, which have now been replaced by the Common Application Software (CAS) designed especially for the programme. The data is collected using smartphones provided to AWs. This data can then be accessed and analysed by supervisors using tablets, and the block, district, state and national level ICDS officers using the reporting dashboards, provided to them. It also seeks to provide performance-based incentives to AWs to encourage them to adopt and efficiently use the technology.
The rationale is that if this data is made available to the MWCD in real time, it will help track and analyse critical nutrition and performance indicators, including weight and height of children.
The programme has also been given substantial funding and importance, and has managed to create harmony, ensure better monitoring and issue alerts for timely action. It is expected to help the government map the nutrition and growth levels of beneficiaries with great accuracy.
Poshan Abhiyaan has enhanced the efficacy of ICDS in addressing malnutrition-related issues from the prenatal stage to six years. However, considering that adequate nutrition is necessary for children aged seven and above also, efforts should be made to ensure that the benefits of this initiative reach children above six years of age. That would be possible with the convergence of the Mid Day Meal (MDM) scheme with Poshan Abhiyaan. The MDM scheme provides freshly cooked nutritious meals to children in the age group of 7-14 years as an incentive to enrol and attend school.
While schools collect data pertaining to height and weight of children, it is not collated or analysed by any central agency—data on malnutrition in the age group of 7-14 years is not readily available. The introduction of CAS for MDM will help school authorities collect real-time data on their smartphones and send it to nodal agencies, facilitating better implementation and monitoring of the school lunch programme. This real-time data will help formulate new strategies, fine-tune existing ones and even devise local strategies to make the most of available resources. Significant reduction in malnutrition can be achieved with clear policies and targets in place. This would require scaling up of funding across all related sectors and real-time monitoring and analysis of data—the inclusion of MDM in Poshan Abhiyaan will help in both the aspects. If done effectively, this will benefit over 94 million children. In the long run, it will help coordinate the functioning of both the nutrition welfare programmes to achieve common goals, thus making Poshan Abhiyaan a well-rounded programme.
Ajay Kavishwar is Director of The Akshaya Patra Foundation