'Malnutrition in India worse than Sub-Saharan Africa'

A malnourished baby is attended to by a nurse at the special newborn care unit in a hospital.

Malnourishment in parts of the state is worse than that of Sub-Saharan Africa, an official said on Saturday.

L K Atheeq, Principal Secretary of the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, who tweeted state malnutrition figures released by the Department of Women and Children early on Saturday morning, said that there is an overall malnutrition rate of up to 41.2% in rural India and 31% in urban areas.

Figures for the state, which include statistics from 15 districts, show varying levels of malnutrition among children within the age group of 0-6 years, demographically belonging to economically weaker sections of society. Koppal district tops the list with a malnutrition rate of 29.98% in January 2019. Bidar, Raichur and Gadag come next with 27.81%, 27.09% and 25.65%, respectively.

Atheeq described malnutrition as a social problem. “Malnutrition begins in the womb,” he said, explaining that if a pregnant woman is anaemic, the baby is also born anaemic.

Nearly 70% of women in India are anaemic, Atheeq added. “The first thousand days of a baby’s development — which translates to three years, including nine months of pregnancy — are crucial to a child’s development and if there is malnutrition at this early stage, it is irreversible in later years,” he said.

This developmental hindrance, according to Uma Mahadevan, until recently secretary of the Women and Child Development Department and current secretary of the Panchayat Raj, affects not only physical development but also cognitive ability and chances of employment in adult years.

Uma said that cultural norms are at the heart of malnutrition, including sanitary practices of families. Atheeq said that despite the government having constructed 75 lakh toilets in the state as part of the Swachh Bharat Scheme, nearly 20% are not being used.

“Open-air defecation leaches fecal matter into the soil, and if babies happen to crawl around near drains, the resulting germs and infection by worms interferes with their ability to absorb vital nutrients,” he said.

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