162 million people represents almost half the recorded number of the United States population. This number also represents the number of children under the age of 5 who are diagnosed as malnourished in India.
Nearly 50 percent of stunted children in India being forced to defecate outdoors. This leads to children being “exposed to a bacterial brew that often sickens them, leaving them unable to attain a healthy body weight no matter how much food they eat.” This inability to reach a healthy standard of living leaves children stunted, permanently damaging their mental and physical healthy. These examples of stunted growth turn into disabilities that will impact millions for the rest of their lives.
According to data received in surveys from the District Level Health Survey (DLHS), “the proportion of underweight children was more or less the same in 2012-13 as it was in 2005-06 across the eight states.” The fact that there has been little to no change in the standards of living in over six years shows the dire situation that India is facing. As much as the country tries to implement aid tactics, the population is growing so quickly and in such remote areas that the aid can rarely reach those affected in time.
While the National Family Health Survey offers more comprehensive information than the DLHS by including nine pertinent states where malnutrition is at its worst, the information available gives a clear picture of the standard of health in India.
In defense of the claims of severely malnourished children, Nivedita Patil, a neonatologist in the Kolhapur state of India has insight into the mind of those she treats. Patil claims, “I have observed that parents give medicines to their children using older prescriptions. Every disease has separate medical treatment and instead of using old prescriptions, parents should visit the doctor whenever the child is ill. This can prevent malnutrition to some extent,” she said, pointing the finger at the parents of children that refuse medical care. While this may or may not have truth to it, it’s clear that there is lack of communication between doctors and patients, likely due to the separation of rural and urban lives.
Another astonishing insight is that Indian children have a higher chance of being malnourished that those of their sub-Saharan counterparts such as Somalia or Zimbabwe. India’s health of children ranks below some of the poorest countries on Earth — 65 million children under the age of 5 are impacted by growth stunting, a third of which are from wealthy families in India.
This difference between the two regions is due almost strictly to the issue that rural and poor Indians defecate outside, exposing themselves to a myriad of harmful and permanently damaging bacteria that affect their health.
The health issue of malnourishment in children affects nearly 20 times more people than the issue of HIV/AIDS in India, showing its all consuming wrath on those who suffer. Still, even with this information the government has little to show for the attempts at righting the many wrongs.
According to the New York Times, “India now spends about $26 billion annually on food and jobs programs, and less than $400 million on improving sanitation — a ratio of more than 60 to 1.” With so little attention focused on this health issue, it’s no wonder that millions of children continue to be wildly affected by the damages of rural life in India. Children are supposedly the future of every nation but with little will to change, it looks like India’s bleak future holds little for the younger, struggling generation to come.
– Elena Lopez