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Published on: Dec. 17, 2020, 2:30 p.m.
Hexagon Nutrition, ASSOCHAM jointly wage a war on malnutrition
  • Over 6 million children are affected by SAM in India

By Business India Editorial

Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), one of the toughest problems facing children, is an increasing concern today. Due to the economic downturn attributable to Covid-19 in India and much of the world, the country’s malnutrition levels are certain to rise.

To counter this, Hexagon Nutrition, in association with the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), brought together experts to formulate strategies in these unprecedented times, via a webinar, to prevent and control SAM across the nation. 

According to the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (2016-18), conducted by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW), the prevalence of severe acute malnutrition among children is 4.9 per cent. This means that one in every 20 children in India under five years of age suffers from SAM. In number terms, this accounts for over six million children affected by SAM, perhaps the highest such number in the world. This may be a conservative estimate, as the Indian Academy of Paediatrics has put the number close to eight million.

“The ongoing Covid-19 crisis has affected individuals from all walks of life,” said Arun Mishra, head, global nutrition regulatory affairs, Unilever & co-chairman, Food Processing Council, ASSOCHAM, in his opening address. “And it continues to affect us. The role of nutrition during this crisis is critically important for all age groups.”

Guidelines to follow

Explains Naveen Jain, former MD, National Health Mission (NHM), government of Rajasthan: “Energy-dense nutrition supplement (EDNS), along with the Malnutrition Treatment Centre (MTC), can make a huge difference in each state and district to eradicate SAM.” An objective-based Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) pilot in Rajasthan, in association with GAIN, UNICEF, ACF and EDNF, has given an evidence-based guiding direction to manage SAM for future research purposes.

Recent studies have shown that 85 per cent of SAM cases can be treated through nutrition counselling and behavioural change techniques, whereas the rest, 15 per cent with complicated medical cases or co-morbidities, might need deeper interventions, added Indira Mallo, commissioner, Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), government of Maharashtra.

  • The ongoing Covid-19 crisis has affected individuals from all walks of life. And it continues to affect us. The role of nutrition during this crisis is critically important for all age groups

Asia and Africa bear the greatest share of all forms of malnutrition, acknowledged Vikram Kelkar, group MD, Hexagon Nutrition, while speaking about malnutrition and its types, in a global and Indian overview. 

Elaborating on SAM, Ranadip Chaudhary, scientist, Society for Applied Sciences, said that Covid-19 has brought about a surge in moderate and severe wasting among children below five years of age. In the concluding session, Tarun Vij, country director, GAIN, remarked that the Indian food industry is properly equipped to implement these kinds of programmes.

Going forward, a multisectoral partnership could promote a continuous, secure and effective distribution of nutrition programmes. As of now, there are no dedicated policies for the treatment and prevention of SAM at the community level. The panellists called for the Central/state governments to accept the strategy and formulated guidelines for CMAM.  The key answer to reduce this healthcare burden is to access a nutrient-dense, safe and affordable diet for children.

“CMAM Association is poised to align itself with various developments of products as prescribed by the government and extend the PM’s vision of a self-reliant India in eradicating malnutrition,” affirmed Akshat Khandelwal, president, CMAM. “With a manufacturing capacity of more than 20,000 MT of RUTF annually, the members of the association can adequately meet domestic and other therapeutic food requirements. Currently, CMAM members make products that meet WHO and UNICEF standards and export these products for use in other parts of the world.

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