PM says malnutrition problem must be tackled urgently

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the problem of malnutrition in the country must be tackled on an urgent basis, making it clear that the levels of under-nutrition continued to remain unacceptably high inspite of the impressive growth of the economy and a number of programmes aimed at meeting the nutritional challenge.

Presiding over the first meeting of the Prime Minister's National Council on India's Nutrition Challenges here yesterday, Dr Singh also said that the rates of reduction in under-nutrition over time had been disappointingly low. "This is simply unacceptable," he said.

The meeting was attended by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Rural Development Minister C P Joshi, Minister of State for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath and Minister of State for Communication and Information Technology Sachin Pilot.

Also present were Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Member Syeda Hameed, Mr Arun Gupta, Dr Prema Ramachandran, Dr Rohini Nayyar and members of the Council.

Dr Singh said malnutrition was a complex problem caused by multiple factors and with long-term consequences on the growth, development and well-being of the nation.

The meeting discussed the issues involved in detail and made a number of suggestions which will be kept in view as the concerned Ministries take follow-up action.

The participants noted that the Government had several programmes seeking to tackle individual determinants of malnutrition but they felt that coordinated policy action was required for the individual sectors to work together.

Among the points that emerged at the meeting was that the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme required strengthening and restructuring. An official press release said the Ministry of Women & Child Development would take steps in this direction, with special focus on pregnant and lactating mothers and children under three.

The meeting felt the ICDS also needed to forge institutional convergence with the National Rural Health Mission and Total Situation Campaign, particularly at the district and village levels. It needs to provide flexibility for local action and empower mothers in particular and the community in general to have a stake in the programme, the participants said.

The participants agreed that a multi-sectoral programme to address the maternal and child malnutrition in selected 200 high-burden districts needed to be prepared. This programme will bring together various national programmes through strong institutional and programmatic convergence at the State, District, Block and Village levels, the release said.

The meeting thought there was a need to launch a nationwide campaign, coordinated by the Ministry of Women & Child Development, in consultation with Planning Commission, experts, civil society organizations working in this field, against malnutrition so as to address issues of status of women, the care of pregnant mothers and children under two, breastfeeding, and the importance of balanced nutrition, health, hygiene and sanitation.

It was also agreed that the Ministries that deal with Health, Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation, School Education, Agriculture and Food & Public Distribution will bring strong nutrition focus to their programme.

The Prime Minister told the Ministry of Women & Child Development and the Planning Commission to review the progress in implementation of the decisions of the meeting after three months.


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