The large number of children who are underweight and have stunted growth is indicative of the fact that the healthcare programmes of the Central and State governments targeting women and children have not achieved the desired results, Health Minister P.K. Sreemathi said here on Friday.

She was speaking after inaugurating a national seminar on ‘Population Dynamics and Health Issues of Children in India,' jointly organised by the Department of Demography, University of Kerala, and the Southern Chapter of the India Association for the Study of Population.

Correcting this situation is today a challenge for policy makers, planners and administrators. India accounts for 42 per cent of underweight children in developing countries. In 2005-06, 43 per cent of Indian children below five years were underweight while 40 per cent were classified as stunted growth (deficient in height). In comparison, only 7 per cent of Chinese children in the same category were underweight and only 11 per cent had stunted growth, she said.

Close to two million Indian children below the age of five die every year. Half these deaths are attributed to under-nutrition and to hunger. While it is true that significant gains have been made in health-related indicators over the years, the progress across most of the indicators is poor in comparison with countries such as China and Sri Lanka. Moreover, the progress in various indicators is uneven across different regions of the country. While the southern States such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu have made much progress in these areas, many of the northern States lagged far behind, Ms. Sreemathy said.

“It is the right of every child to be well nourished and brought up as a healthy adult. Under-nourished children have significantly lower chances of survival than the well nourished and are more prone to infections and diseases. Coordinated efforts to ensure food security, safe drinking water and clean environment are required to achieve the goals of safe motherhood and child survival,” she pointed out.

Though there are problems in Kerala relating to child health such as decreasing achievements in universal immunisation, the State government has taken steps to address this, she added. Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kerala A. Jayakrishnan presided.