Malnutrition in India
Modern India is advancing in the sector of science and technology yet it has a serious rate of hunger and poverty. The Global Hunger Index of 2022 ranks India 107th out of 121 nations in terms of hunger, which equates to a serious level of hunger. The GHI score also reveals that 16.3% of the population in India suffers from undernourishment while 19.3% and 35% of children under 5 suffer from wasting and stunting respectively. The Government of India, however, has pushed the country’s development, specifically in health and education, through digitalization to a great extent. The Poshan Tracker app is one such initiative built with a vision of eliminating malnutrition among children and pregnant/lactating women, two groups that face dire impacts of malnutrition in India, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports. The app also benefits adolescent girls.

The Poshan Abhiyaan

The word “Poshan” is the Hindi word for nutrition. India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development launched the Poshan Tracker app on March 1, 2021, through the National e-Governance Division with the goal to monitor and track malnutrition across the country. The Poshan Tracker is an innovative tool that forms part of the Indian government’s revolutionary flagship program, POSHAN Abhiyaan, a campaign that aims to reduce malnutrition among adolescent girls, pregnant women, lactating mothers and children from 0 to 6 years of age.

The Poshan Tracker helps the government to monitor the activities of the Anganwadi Workers (AWW) and record the progress of the beneficiaries. Anganwadi Worker Centers are central government-sponsored childcare centers designed to combat hunger and malnutrition and improve nutrition among children in India. In total, India has about 1.4 million Anganwadis across the country.

According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development of India, the Poshan Tracker app, available in 22 local languages, enables a full overview of the activities of the AWW and works as a supporting application to manage the complete system of services. These AWWs have to first register in order to access the app and provide services to people. The AWWs help the beneficiaries to register on the app while verifying their identity cards.

A September 2022 POSHAN Abhiyaan e-bulletin says the Indian government has provided more than a million smartphones to the AWWs. The government also grants Rs 200 to the AWW and the lady supervisor of each center for the recharge of their smartphones every month. The POSHAN Abhiyaan bulletin revealed that, by September 2022, more than 1.2 million AWWs received training on using Poshan Tracker.

How the App Works

The Poshan Tracker is an easy-to-use app that one can install on any android mobile phone with an android version above six. The app is not for general public use, hence, beneficiaries can register themselves on the app only with the help of the Anganwadi Workers. One can access the app offline and the app saves offline data input for up to three days. The beneficiaries may take home a free ration for 21 days a month. Children between 3 and 6 are able to access a hot cooked meal at the Anganwadi Centers for 21 days a month. The Centers supplement children experiencing nutritional deficiencies with additional nutritional food too.

The Poshan Tracker allows AWWs to assess the nutritional status of children according to the standards set by the World Health Organization. The Anganwadi Workers pay home visits too to monitor individuals and fill in real-time data on the app. The beneficiaries receive timely health checkups and vaccinations for infants and pregnant women at home at just a click of a button.

Poshan Tracker has proved to be a groundbreaking application to combat malnutrition in India, benefitting 98.4 million people as of September 2022. The hopes for this app and the nutrition scheme of India have increased even more after the government announced a budget exceeding Rs 11 billion for this flagship program for 2022-2023.

– Aanchal Mishra
Photo: Pixabay

malnutrition in india
Though it seems ironic, the leading culprit of malnutrition in India may not be lack of access to food. New studies instead suggest that malnutrition is a result of poor sanitation.

Children from developing nations are often exposed to bacteria through germ-infested water; this exposure affects their bodies’ ability to grow and develop. Energy is diverted from the aforementioned areas in order to allow children to fight infection. This process leads to growth stunting and perpetual hunger.

A fact that is even more surprising, and further validates this new hypothesis, is that malnutrition is much more common in India than in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to UNICEF, stunted growth affects more than 65 million children in India under the age of 5. In other words, one in every three malnourished children in the world lives in India.

Stunting poses grim consequences; it is not only responsible for the deaths of 1 million children under 5 years old each year, but those who survive suffer considerable cognitive deficits. Ramanan Laxinarayan, Vice President for research and policy at the Public Health Foundation for India, claims that it is the largest loss of human potential in any country in history.

For years, it has been assumed that malnutrition in India is a direct result of insufficient food intake. However, given India’s long economic boom and the unfaltering prevalence of malnutrition, it seems that scarcity of food is not the issue.

The government has tried to address malnutrition for years by distributing vast stores of subsidized food. The failure to reverse the epidemic is what forced researchers to go back to the drawing board. This time around they identified sanitation as the root cause.

Half of India’s population defecates outdoors. What‘s more, no Indian city has a comprehensive waste treatment system and most Indian rivers are open sewers. The result is an abundance of waste polluting both soil and water. Due to population growth, the exposure to human waste within the last decade has risen by nearly 50 percent.

According to economist Dean Spears, India’s population defecates outdoors far more than anywhere else in the world. The correlation between malnutrition in India and open defecation is undeniable. The difference in average height between an African and a child living in India, for example, can be directly attributed to where the surrounding population goes to the bathroom outdoors.

Open defecation has a long history in India; ancient Hindu texts reveal the culturally embedded custom to relieve oneself outdoors and far from home. For this reason, the government faces a stubborn population that is reluctant to install indoor toilets.

India currently spends 60 times more on food and job programs than on improving sanitation. In order to reverse this spending habit, the country must undergo what Jairam Ramesh, former sanitation minister, calls a “cultural revolution.” The people must first recognize the glaringly intimate relationship between open defecation and malnutrition in India before change can occur.

– Samantha Scheetz
Sources: New York Times, UNICEF, The Lancet
Photo: WUNRN