Banishing malnutrition

Banishing malnutrition

Banishing malnutrition

Pushpa Achanta tells us how child malnutrition in Bidar is being slowly edged out by positive approaches

A  community-led initiative to address child malnutrition in Aurad taluk in Bidar district is creating a roadmap for change. A marked change has been achieved in the health indicators through a slew of positive interventions.

The locals have set this process of transformation into motion with assistance from Myrada, a Bangalore-based non-profit organisation, which is implementing the Fight Hunger First Initiative (FHFI) of the German development agency Deutsche Welthungerhilfe. 

In dire need of help

Aurad is home to a sizeable population of severely marginalised Dalits and Adivasis (tribals) and has some of the worst social and health indicators in the southern state.

“This was why we chose Aurad as the primary location for activities focusing on eliminating acute malnutrition among children. We launched the campaign in September 2011 and it will go on until early 2015,” shares Mohammed Siraj, Programme Officer, Myrada.

The work on eradicating malnutrition took off with a door-to-door survey to gauge the status of the health of mothers and children in 68 villages. The results were not very positive. While levels of undernourishment were found to be high, with several children falling in the SAM (Severe and Acute Malnourished) category, numerous reasons contributing to this came to light. 

The need of the hour was not just to initiate life-saving treatment for SAM children but build awareness regarding the critical issue to generate long-term gains. 

With these twin objectives in mind, Myrada identified and trained literate women in the project villages as Community Resource Persons (CRPs) to provide counselling, track the progress of pregnant women and neonatal children and engage with the anganwadi workers to ensure effective implementation of various government health schemes. 

Those children who are classified as SAM are referred to the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres (NRCs) attached to the district hospital upon the recommendation of the anganwadi worker. Admitted to the NRC for 10 to 12 days, the children receive rigorous treatment that includes proper food, medicines and dedicated nursing care.

Apart from this, the CRPs conduct discussions with anganwadi workers, mothers – expectant, lactating or otherwise. Within primary schools, the CRPs have been encouraging children to develop nutrition gardens. Today, 41 schools and 212 families in the taluk are maintaining kitchen gardens.

Local women have been taught a recipe which is a quick fix solution to meet the nutritional needs of their children. Called ‘My Nutrimix’, it is a blend of powdered wheat and sprouted green gram combined with groundnut and jaggery and cooked with milk or water. It provides all the necessary calories and is rich in iron and calcium. This mix is provided free of cost to SAM children.

When Sudharani, 22, a mother of three from Soralli village first met her CRP, she was anaemic and her son Sudeep, severely malnourished. An agricultural labourer belonging to the Dalit community, she earns a daily wage of Rs 60 for toiling eight hours in the fields while her husband Shankar, 26, works in the unorganised construction sector and can get Rs 500 or more depending on the job. “I have been feeding my sons the Nutrimix powder and diligently attending all the meetings at the anganwadi centre,” she elaborates.

Another unique aspect of the FHFI has been the involvement of government institutions. The impact of such a multifarious endeavour is there for everyone to see. Of the 96 children that were identified as SAM in July 2013, 61 have become normal, in addition to 589 of the 641 moderately malnourished children that have regained their health. The hard numbers speak volumes, as do the happy faces of families in Aurad.