Scores of malnourished children and infant deaths in and around city are the evidence

Scores of malnourished children and infant deaths in and around the capital even today are glaring evidences of a botched ‘Integrated Child Development Scheme' (ICDS). One beset with administrative flaws, faulty policy and lack of awareness among the poor.

Launched to bring down malnutrition among children below six years and to reduce infant mortality, the scheme has achieved precious little so far.

Lack of infrastructure

While 54 children below the age of one died in city last year, 627 infants passed away in Ranga Reddy due to low birth weight, malnutrition, lack of awareness among pregnant mothers and so on. These figures too, the Health Department officials say, are underreported.

These deaths are happening despite the presence of ‘Anganwadi' centres, which are the main platform for delivering ICDS services. The centres have been set up to provide supplementary nutrition, immunisation and health check-ups to children in slums, yet parents shun them as they lack basic infrastructure.

Malnourishment

While there are 907 ‘anganwadis' across slums in Hyderabad, over 48 per cent, i.e., over 1.30 lakh underprivileged children are malnourished. Situation is worse in Ranga Reddy where little over 50 per cent of poor children, catered to by 2,800 centres (across its urban, semi-rural and rural areas) are below the normal weight.

About 30 per cent of those below normal weight fall under ‘first grade malnourishment', less severe than extreme malnourishment. But doctors said that children in this grade too are under high-risk.

“Children in first grade malnutrition are vulnerable to infections making them susceptible to mortality,” said Dr. P. Sudershan Reddy, senior paediatrician, Niloufer hospital. “These children are also prone to slip into extreme life-threatening malnutrition,” he said.

Bad food

A prime reason for the high rate of malnutrition is that there are no takers for the free supplementary food provided in the form of powder by A.P. Foods. “The powder doesn't boil and children complain of stomach pain on eating dishes cooked with it,” complained Vijaya, a slum-dweller in Bhaglingampally.

Such is the loathing for the powder that if they were made to take it along with the four eggs every 15 days under the government's Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP), they throw away the powder. “We enrol in the Anganwadis only for the eggs,” she added.

There are also complaints that even locally cooked food, supplied to children between three to six years at ‘anganwadis' every afternoon often gets spoilt by the time it is served due to the time taken for distribution.