In Belagavi, fighting malnourishment with the power of awareness

A key reason behind the persistence of malnutrition, apart from poverty, was a lack of awareness on nutrition management
Last Updated 18 April 2022, 21:32 IST

"I had almost lost hope that she would survive," said Suman, a resident of Bidi village in Khanapur taluk, talking about her two-year-old daughter.

Suman's daughter suffered from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), a dreaded condition that can prove fatal, and she thought her daughter wouldn't make it.

But then a miracle happened. In came volunteers from Jagruthi, an organisation that works with underprivileged children in Belagavi.

The volunteers educated her on making the most of the food kit provided at anganwadis. Suman did as was told. In a few months her daughter recovered.

"This is like a second chance for her," she told DH.

And it is not just Suman. Scores of other parents are now seeing similar results, thanks to Jagruthi and their new-found awareness on malnutrition.

In August last year, volunteers conducted a survey in three taluks - Hukkeri, Khanapur, Kittur - in Belagavi. As many as 400 children in each taluk in the 0-6 age group were identified for survey purposes.

They found that a key reason behind the persistence of malnutrition, apart from poverty, was a lack of awareness on nutrition management.

For example, they found that a powdered multi-grain mixture known locally as 'Pushti' provided under the Integrated Child Development Services was being fed to cattle instead of children due to misconceptions. Some parents shunned the powder after seeing side-effects.

“After feeding 'Pushti' to my daughter, she developed diarrhoea,” said Ratnavva of Devgoan village.

Experts say the reason for this is because the "multi-grain powder contains groundnut, which causes diarrhoea because of its coarse nature".

The volunteer group asked parents to filter out coarse parts.

Next, for healthy children, volunteers provided general nutrition awareness and discouraged junk food, providing alternatives with snacks that could be made at home like peanut laddu.

The team spent about three months teaching parents about nutrition and how to make use of the nutrition kits provided by anganwadis.

This produced results.

The malnutrition rate, which was as high as 27% (Khanapur) in August 2021, came down to 5% in October and further dipped to zero in December.

Dr Gopal Dabade, founder member of Jagruti, said during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, anganwadi centres were closed and mid-day meals stopped.

There was delay in anganwadi workers distributing nutritional kits to the children at doorsteps. While this was one of the causes for exacerbation of malnutrition, another major cause was parents, who were rendered jobless, were also taking a share in the food supplied for the consumption of children.

This resulted in children gradually suffering due to lack of vitamins and that pushed them to SAM category, Dr Gopal said.

Quoting NITI Aayog’s report (Nourishing India: National Nutrition Strategy), Dr Gopal said five districts of Karnataka-Ballari, Bagalkot, Koppal, Kalaburagi and Yadgir are among the 100 poor performing districts with very high levels of stunting.

In the case of wasting, Karnataka is in the seventh position. In the state, 32% of children are underweight and Karnataka stands at ninth position in the prevalence of underweight children, Dr Gopal added.

Officials in the Women and Child Welfare Department admitted the lack of awareness among parents and added that the department is tackling malnutrition by adopting several measures.

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(Published 18 April 2022, 19:21 IST)

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