Guard against Covid-19 supplement overdose

Guard against Covid-19 supplement overdose

Parents should realise that not every child needs these supplements

Representative Image. Credit: DH File Photo

The Karnataka government has taken the right decision in screening over 1.5 crore school students and providing vitamins and other supplements to those vulnerable in order to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, with experts suggesting that a third wave could hit children hard. With studies indicating that about 40% of children in the country are malnourished and thus susceptible to Covid, the move assumes significance, especially since the state government failed to provide mid-day meals during the pandemic, thus depriving students of their daily nutritional intake. However, both parents and the government should exercise great caution as an overdose of supplements could do more harm than good, especially among children under the age of five. Experts have warned that children should have a balanced immunity level and that either a weak or excessively strong system can cause damage to vital organs, besides other adverse effects. Indiscriminate distribution of ‘immunity kits’ among children should be discouraged. They must be administered supplements only after proper medical evaluation. Parents, too, should realise that not every child needs these supplements.

While some experts point to the absence of scientific evidence to prove that supplements help in preventing infection, they are unanimous in the view that a well-balanced diet is more important for a growing child than any medical inputs. What is more important is to provide them with healthy food, clean drinking water, hygienic surroundings and ensuring that they are exposed to adequate physical activity and sunlight. There is a need to address the issue holistically through sustained measures, instead of temporary interventions, with UNICEF estimating that India accounts for a third of the global burden of childhood stunting, a manifestation of chronic undernutrition.

The mid-day meal programme was launched in 1995 to address the issues of hunger and nutrition among children by providing hot cooked food while also improving the enrolment rate and reducing dropouts. The high figures of malnutrition only indicate that state governments have failed in their responsibility. The initiative to provide supplements should be a stopgap arrangement, considering that many poor students had no access to a wholesome diet during the pandemic. In the long run, state governments should ensure that underprivileged children get a wholesome complement of nutrition through the mid-day meal scheme.

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