Covid-19 pandemic can increase malnutrition in Indian children by 10-20%: UNICEF Nutrition Chief

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on September 20, 2020

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The malnutrition in the country can grow by 10-20 per cent due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, a top UNICEF has said.

Speaking at the India Immunity E-Summit 2020, Arjan De Wagt,Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF, India, said: “As far as malnutrition in India is concerned, a Lancet study last year estimated that two-thirds of the 1.04 million deaths in children under five years in India is still attributable to malnutrition. And during Covid-19, it may increase by 10-20 per cent.”

Recently, UNICEF had warned that an additional 6,000 children could die daily from preventable causes over the next six months as the Covid-19 pandemic has weakened the health systems, disrupting routine services.

According to Wagt, the government needs to maintain the tempo and get back on track with maximum Coverage, Continuity, Intensity and Quality (CCIQ) to fight back Covid-19. He added: “In my opinion, there should be 12 Poshan Maah and 52 Breastfeeding Weeks in a year rather than one. Parents play the biggest role in feeding the children, so they should be educated about the importance of nutrition in boosting immunity.”

Vulnerable groups are most affected

Elaborating on the essence and the need to conduct such discourse on nutrition and immunity, Bishow Parajuli, Representative & Country Director, WFP, India, said in the summit: “During the Covid-19 time, some Indian States have faced crisis, but at the same time the role of Some states have been instrumental in tackling the Covid-19 situation such as Kerala, Orissa and UP have done a fantastic job, indeed.”

“During mass migration, we realized hidden hunger, so we need to customize the nutrition module,” added Parajuli.

While addressing the ‘India Immunity E-Summit 2020, Tarun Vij, Country Director, GAIN, said: “Still, 700 thousand children are stunted. In the Covid-19 pandemic, already vulnerable groups have been affected the most as the food supply chain got disturbed. Considering the malnutrition and stunting in India galore, all development partners should work towards food fortification. This will help make out the nutritional balance because nutrition is the key to life and if one is nutritionally deficient, one is going to die.”

Deliberating on the importance of nutrition, Dr Swadeep Srivastava, Founder HEAL Foundation, said that malnutrition has always been a major problem in India with over 38 per cent of Indian children under five being stunted and over 50 per cent of women of reproductive age are anaemic. And this momentum has increased considerably during Covid-19.

Published on September 20, 2020

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