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Nutrition bureau axed, anti-poverty schemes starved

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Forty years after being established with a mandate to generate data on the nutritional status of socially vulnerable groups, the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) has been shut down by the Union Health Ministry.

The bureau, under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), had been critical in informing the government’s poverty alleviation interventions with periodic assessments of nutrient deficiency among tribal communities, pregnant women, adolescents and “at-risk” elderly population in India.

“The problem was that the bureau was running in a project mode. Government programmes that run in a project mode for this long are not sustainable. We have been asked to shut down that particular project,” said Soumya Swaminathan, Director-General, ICMR, and Secretary, Health Research Department.

In countries such as India where nutrition has a cultural significance, such organisations provide a good understanding of what people eat and what, therefore, can be culturally accepted nutritional interventions, said Amit Sengupta, convener of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, the Indian chapter of the People’s Health Movement.

“These decisions have to be seen in the context of the fact that we have the largest population of the nutritionally deprived in the world. Our child malnutrition numbers are the highest in the world. This is a real emergency and the NNMB plays a very important role in projecting data in terms of what people are eating. The data gathered by the NNMB informs the policy intervention to address under-nutrition. At this time, for the government to dismantle the project means that we are likely to end up in a situation where the government’s solutions are neither culturally acceptable nor effective to meet our health challenges,” he said.

The bureau was the only organisation involved in continuous collection of data on actual dietary intakes of households as a whole as well as by individuals belonging to different age and physiological groups in different States.

“There is a general recognition that the kind of data being generated was extremely valuable. Now, we have to recreate [the programme]. We have a national institute of nutrition. We are working on a proposal to develop nutrition-monitoring stations across the country, but that will be a permanent structure within the ICMR,” Dr. Swaminathan said.

The bureau is among many research organisations hit by the government’s cash crunch. As The Hindu reported on Wednesday, the Union Science and Technology Ministry has asked scientific research organisations under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research to start “self-financing” projects, turning research projects into “for-profit” ventures over the next two years.

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2018 6:04:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/national-nutrition-monitoring-bureau-axed-antipoverty-schemes-starved/article7815511.ece