Biraj Patnaik, Principal Adviser to the Office of the Supreme Court Commissioners in the Right to Food case, has criticised the “moral bankruptcy” that prevents those in power from finding solutions to the malaise of malnutrition.

Delivering the inaugural lecture on “Food security and maternal health” organised by the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood - India (WRAI) here on Wednesday, Mr. Patnaik said there are a plethora of schemes to address malnutrition but obstacles are placed by authorities through complex conditions that prevent the needy from accessing these schemes.

Noting that 350 maternal deaths occur every day and India has to look beyond the policy domain into areas that reflect gross inequities all of which impact women, Mr. Patnaik pointed out that data from the International Food Policy Research institute (IFPRI) showed one-third of India's babies have a low birth weight, double that of Africa at 15 per cent.

“India has the highest rates of anaemia in the world, and a comparison of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2 and 3 data shows an increase in the levels of anaemia. There is a direct link between anaemia and the maternal deaths which are due to haemorrhage,” he said.

Mr. Patnaik is a co-founder of the Mitanin Programme in Chhattisgarh that trained and deployed over 60,000 women community health workers there.

WRAI National Coordinator Aparajita Gogoi said the lecture series would bring out the connections between various development parameters and maternal health and it hopes to engage a wider audience in the issue and accelerate advocacy and action.

Speaking on the subject, Dr. Gogoi said it is not enough to fulfil nutritional needs of women only when they are pregnant and lactating. “The cycle of malnutrition begins in the womb and continues throughout the life cycle of a woman. A woman who was malnourished as a foetus, young child, or adolescent is more likely to enter pregnancy stunted and malnourished.”

Future lectures in the series will address topics like privatisation of health services in India, impact of poverty and gender inequality.