In response to an RTI request, the Women and Child Development Ministry stated that over 33 lakh children in the country are malnourished, with more than half of them falling into the seriously malnourished category, with Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Bihar leading the list.
The total 33.23 lakh is a compilation of data from 34 states and Union Territories, according to the government in answer to a PTI RTI request.
The data were entered into the Poshan tracker app, which was created earlier this year as a governance tool for real-time nutritional monitoring.
According to the government, as of October 14, 2021, there are 17,76,902 severely acute malnourished (SAM) children and 15,46,420 moderately acute malnutrition (MAM) children.
This has caused concerns that the Covid-19 outbreak will exacerbate the poorest of the poor’s health and nutrition situation.
As per the PTI data, between November 2020 and October 14, 2021, the number of SAM children increased by 91%, from 9.27 lakh to 17.76 lakh.
The number of SAM children aged six months to six years who were recognised earlier in 2020 was recorded and reported to the federal government by 36 states and union territories.
The age group of the children has, however, not been specified.
SAM is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having a very low weight-for-height ratio, a mid-upper arm circumference less than 115 mm, or the presence of nutritional oedema. MAM, on the other hand, is defined as mild wasting and/or a mid-upper-arm circumference larger than 115 mm but less than 125 mm.
Children with SAM have very low weight for their height and are nine times more likely to die from diseases due to their compromised immune system, but children with MAM are also at a higher risk of morbidity and mortality during childhood.
According to the RTI response citing the Poshan tracker, Maharashtra had the largest number of malnourished children at 6.16 lakh, including 1.57 lakh MAM children and 4.58 lakh SAM children.
Bihar is second on the list, with 4.75 lakh malnourished children (3.23 lakh MAM children and 1.52 lakh SAM children).
Gujarat registered the third highest number of such children at 3.20 lakh with 1.55 lakh MAM children and 1.65 lakh SAM children.
Asserting that the Covid pandemic has impacted nearly all socio-economic indicators negatively, Child Rights and You (CRY) CEO Puja Marwaha while responding to the numbers said this threatens to undo much of the progress made over the past decade.
“During the protracted closure of schools, services like as ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) and midday meals in schools have become irregular.” “These have disproportionately harmed children living in multidimensional poverty, because they have been heavily reliant on these programmes to fulfil their rights and entitlements,” Marwaha was reported as saying by PTI.
The CRY CEO went on to say that the government will be unable to ameliorate the loss caused by the Covid-19 pandemic until the challenges of adequacy in budgetary allocations to ensure children’s nutrition security and bottlenecks in utilisation are addressed.
Meanwhile, Anupam Sibal, group medical director and senior paediatrician at Apollo Hospitals Group, stressed the need of detecting malnutrition early and initiating proper treatment to avoid increasing malnutrition.
“We know that children who are malnourished have a greater risk of infections, have less energy and perform less than their genetic potential in school,” Sibal said.
“Managing malnutrition involves a holistic approach that begins with adequate nutrition for pregnant and nursing women, exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and a concentrate on appropriate weaning and balanced nutrition throughout the first several years of life,” he added.
According to Manish Mannan, head of department, paediatrics and neonatology, Paras Hospitals, children with severe acute malnutrition require specialised therapeutic diets in addition to the diagnosis and management of problems during in-patient care.
“Nutrition counselling has long been used as an approach to MAM management in situations where caregivers may have access to affordable food, and knowledge of appropriate care practices is not a constraint,” Mannan said.
“This strategy is predicated on the assumption that nutritious food is available, but also that caregivers lack sufficient expertise of how to combine items into appropriate diets for malnourished or at-risk children,” he noted.