Monday, October 3, 2011
Supreme court order In 2009 the SC said that nutrition and feeding norms have to ensure that children between 6 months and 3 years of age must get 500 calories and 12-15 gm of protein daily. For severely malnourished children 800 calories and 20-25 gm of protein For pregnant and lactating mothers- 600 calories and 18-20 gm of Protein Malnourishment deaths stats 2010 (Jan to Aug)------12,792 2011(Jan to Aug)-------18,486 How many deaths will it take till govt knows that too many kids have died? Published: Saturday, Oct 1, 2011, 9:30 IST By Sandeep Pai & Gangadhar S Patil | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA The Maharashtra government had planned to bring down the number of malnourished children in the state by providing them with packaged food. The idea might have been noble but the government, it seems, forgot to run quality checks. As a result, the food supplied is substandard and the number of children dying of malnutrition has gone up substantially. DNA found that the food, provided by the government, under the Take Home Ration (THR) scheme is way short in calories than what the manufacturers claim. Also, children between six months and three years can barely accept the food: sheera, upma, sattu and sukhdi (meant for adolescent girls). Of the four, sheera is the most important as it is recommended for and given to severely malnourished children at least thrice daily. A nutritional analysis test on the food provided by Anacon Laboratories Pvt Ltd, Nagpur, showed 3g of protein and 42 calories less (sample size was 100g) than the amount mentioned on the packets. Upma and sukhdi had 75 and 70 calories less. DNA has a copy of the report. A senior official from the woman and child welfare department (WCD) claimed that the government carries out tests every month on samples. But the official admitted that the packaged foods were short of the calorific requirements. "Our tests always show that the samples have 30-60 calories less than the prescribed limit," the official said. Vandana Krishna, WCD secretary, refused to comment on the matter, but Varsha Gaikwad, WCD minister, promised to look into it. "I have to first understand the details of the court case," she told DNA on the phone. When DNA sought her views on banning THR in the state, the phone, strangely, got disconnected and subsequent attempts proved futile as the recorded message of the service provider kept saying the phone was switched off. The Bombay high court had recently directed the government to provide children in Amravati district with freshly cooked meal instead of THR. The directive has led to a marked improvement. DNA found children happy with the food. Bandhu Sagar, a petitioner in the case and a social activist from Amravati, said children were very happy. "Now, they get cooked food and they like to eat it too." Government guidelines prescribe punishment for manufacturers whose packaged food does not meet the standard. Strangely, no action has been taken against errant manufacturers even though the WCD has found food samples not meeting the calorific requirements. DNA had earlier reported that state government statistics peg the number of children (0-6 years age group) who died of malnutrition between January and August this year is 18,486. The figure for the same period in 2010 was 12,792. So, this means 5,694 more babies died this year. But, how does the food meant for children in the six months-three years age group affect the health of those in the three to six age bracket. Since kids (six months-three years) do not like the food under the THR scheme, they eat cooked food meant for children (3-6 years). This means splitting the ration. "Nobody likes THR. We generally divide the cooked food among all the children in the village," an anganwadi worker said. DNA found the same pattern in almost all anganwadis in Mumbai, Thane and Amravati. "This division means children from both age groups suffer as they do not get the required amount of calories," Mahesh Kamble, assistant state adviser for Supreme Court commissioners, said. "The cascading effect is: an increase in the number of malnourished children in the state." Anganwadis used to provide children (six months-three years) with hot cooked food till last year when the government replaced it with THR in view of World Health Organisation guidelines to tackle malnourishment. In the course of its investigation, DNA found that the THR scheme has been a failure. In villages, THR is cattle fodder, and in cities, there are hardly any takers. Anganwadi workers mostly pay out of their pockets to clear unused THR. "We pay Rs150 to a sweeper to clear packets… nobody wants to eat THR," an anganwadi worker from Trombay said. For most anganwadis, THR is a nuisance as parents refuse THR and manufacturers force them to accept it. "We have told our supervisors that we don't need THR. But we are forced to accept consignments and sign delivery receipts." Since most families have storage issues, the food is eaten within a day or two. But packets are given once in every 10-15 days, Shubha Shamim, state secretary of Anganwadi Karmachari Sanghatana, Maharashtra, said. Also, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) said in a report on Mumbai that a month's ration of THR is distributed in a day. This means there is minimal interaction with children or their parents. This also means symptoms of malnutrition, if any, go unchecked. Despite all this, the government is reluctant to disband the THR scheme.