Legislators walk the talk

Nutritional needs: Special newborn care unit at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre in Guna. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: de28WFS-HEALTH-RAJASTHAN

Leadership and learning go together. That, at least, is what a team of seven legislators from Rajasthan discovered. In order to understand best ways of addressing child malnutrition – a hot button issue in a State where the infant mortality rate, at 59, is much higher than the national average – they recently undertook a tour to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh to study best practices in nutrition.

Suryakanta Vyas, 73-year-old MLA from Soorsagar, Jodhpur and chairperson of the Women and Child Welfare Committee headed the team.

Though she pointed out that each region had its own way of dealing with such concerns and others could learn from it, she was struck by the way an anganwadi (mother and child care centre) in Mayana village, Guna district, marks the third Tuesday of every month as ‘Janam Diwas Samaroh' (birthday celebration), during which all the children who have their birthdays are given small gifts. They are also weighed, a statistic that is then entered in the anganwadi register.

Vyas drew important lessons from the birthday celebration. She said, “Such events could take care of the problem we face in Rajasthan where a good number of mothers – around 46 per cent according to a study by the Resource Institute for Human Rights – enrolled with the aganwadis do not reap benefits of its services.” She, in fact, has written to the Department of Women and Child Development to replicate the initiative in Rajasthan.

During the tour, the team was introduced to wheat flour fortification pilot projects in the districts of Guna, Shivpuri and Sheopur. The group got a chance to observe how it worked in the villages of Bhadoura and Umri where it is meant to address the nutritional needs of the deprived community of Sahariya tribals.

MLA Ganga Devi, who represents Bagru, Jaipur, compared the MP intervention with Rajasthan's own food fortification drive that has recently been rolled out across all districts. According to her, fortified flour is sold for Rs 8.60 a kilogram in parts of the State. For Below Poverty Line families the price of fortified flour, sold in packets of 10 kilos each, is Rs 3.60 per kilo. In contrast, at Guna, she noticed that the flour milled at village mills was fortified at no extra cost because the pre-blend was being supplied to mill owners through the project. “Cost is an important factor in the consumption of fortified food. We need to tell our government to replicate the Guna intervention, at least in the poor, tribal districts,” she said.

Another initiative that caught the eye of the visitors was the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre at Guna, with its special newborn care unit. Set up in October 2005 with assistance from UNICEF and other donors, it is meant to revive severely malnourished children. The unit provides the kids health check-ups, medicines and the required nutritious food. It also counsels their parents on proper feeding habits. In order to build greater community awareness about the existence of such a facility and to create a demand for such services, a team of animators and village motivators act as a bridge between the communities and government-run services of this kind.

For the MLAs there have been many takeaways from the study trip, which they hope will ultimately benefit their State. MLA Promila Kundara said, “The nutrition situation in Rajasthan is worrying. Here, 41.7 per cent of infants (18-23 months) are underweight and 49.4 per cent in the same age group are stunted. We need to act, and act fast. Which is why we also need to understand better what works and what doesn't.” The trip to MP, she hopes, is the beginning of a long journey of engagement and action on addressing malnutrition in Rajasthan. ( WFS)

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 2:47:27 AM |

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