COVID-19 induced lockdown has had severe impact on the nutritional status of children and pregnant and lactating women of underprivileged sections in Madhya Pradesh, with their nutrition (food) intake in terms of net calories showing deficit of 51 per cent, 67 per cent and 68 per cent respectively.
This meant that the kids got less than half of required nutritious food while the women got only one-third of what is recommended for them.
This is the shocking finding of a survey conducted in 122 villages of six districts—Rewa, Satna, Panna, Umaria, Niwari and Shivpuri—of the state by NGO Vikas Samvad.
Majority of the residents in these villages are tribals (79 per cent) or dalits (9 per cent) and a lot of them are migrant workers—at least one family member migrated for work in case of 64 per cent families. The organisation also conducted intensive case studies on 33 randomly selected families in these villages to understand the nutritional behavior during the COVID-19 induced crisis. The study was conducted over a period of 45 days from March 25 to May 10.
The study found that during the lockdown period, 70 to 100 per cent nutrition and health related programmes of the state remained inert, thereby cutting down on the food and nutrition availability of the families. Lack of livelihood options was the basic cause of the nutrition deficit in most vulnerable members of the households. At the time of the study, 91 per cent families did not have provision of permanent livelihood.
The report, shared on Thursday over video conference, also shows 41 per cent protein deficit, 24 per cent fats deficit, 97 per cent iron deficit and calcium deficit of 62 per cent in kids in the age group of 2-6 years. Similarly, pregnant and lactating women faced severe deficit of micronutrients. As the number of times that the women breastfed their children went up during the period (from 6-8 to 10-12 times) due to lack of supplementary food for children, the nutritional deficit in the mothers is a matter of grave concern, the study pointed out.
Adequate nutrition support not received
The Madhya Pradesh government had made a provision for delivery of ready-to-eat ration packets for children and pregnant/lactating women registered in the anganwadis of the state. However, it turned out to be inadequate on various counts, the study showed.
About 35 per cent of pregnant/lactating women and kids below three years of age did not receive this ready-to-eat food during the period of study while as many as 60 per cent of kids in age group of 3-6 years did not receive this food at all. Even among those who received the food, the amount was not adequate.
Due to the closure of anganwadis since the past two months, health and nutrition monitoring of the malnourished children was completely stopped. Health check up of pregnant/lactating women too had suffered due to this.
Fifty-eight per cent of the primary school children did not receive the food allowance and ration announced in place of mid-day meal. In the middle school level, 80 per cent got food allowance and ration.
Only 52 per cent families in the areas received complete benefit of public distribution system of ration, while 18 per cent received partial benefits. About 30 per cent were completely deprived of the benefits. A family of five required about 65 kg of monthly ration (food grains), but could access average of 25 kg, which is less than half of required food, and therefore a drastic deficit in food consumption was noticed.
Several families (24 per cent) had to take small loans from different sources to sustain themselves during the period.
Complete nutrition programme demanded
The organisation reiterated the demand to convert the current supplementary nutrition programme under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) to complete nutrition programme. Provision should be made for complete nutrition for the migrant/labourer families, it suggested.
Besides, the organisation has also demanded decentralisation of nutrition programme through women self-help groups, universalisation of maternity benefit schemes, decentralisation of PDS, work of 200 days under MNREGS, acceptance of all claims under Forest Rights Act, making kitchen gardens and planting fruit trees mandatory with anganwadis, and promotion of local fisheries, milk production and pond construction.