To deliberate on the role that young people can play in tackling malnutrition in Assam, UNICEF and academic partner KK Handique State Open University’s (KKHSOU) convened the second virtual talks on Wednesday.
The event was live-streamed on Northeast Now social media platforms.
The virtual event saw participation from Assam chief secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna; KKHSOU Vice-Chancellor Prof. Kandarpa Das; UNICEF Assam’s chief of field office, Dr Madhulika Jonathan and commissioner & secretary to social welfare department of Assam, Mukesh C. Sahu.
The discussion was moderated by senior journalist Mrinal Talukdar.
During the discussion, Kokila Urang, an anganwadi worker at the Rupai Tea Estate in Tinsukia district spoke on the effectiveness of the government’s nutrition interventions, highlighting the changes brought in the behaviour of the community towards health interventions.
She shared about her journey, and on the progress made on-ground.
Mainu Borah and Gabirnandan Chutia, the parents of a seven-month-old child from Tinsukia district, shared their experience as beneficiaries of several government interventions from conception till delivery.
They spoke on the effective role of the anganwadi centres in ensuring good health of the mother and child. The parents together also reflected on their enhanced knowledge on various steps and measures taken to ensure a healthy mother and child.
Niharika Lohar, a Class X student and member of adolescent girls’ group from the Sessa Tea Estate in Dibrugarh district, spoke on the various myths and misconceptions prevalent in the community with regards to anaemia, menstrual hygiene, early child marriage and child birth.
She shed light on how the adolescent girls’ clubs, as a platform, have been playing an instrumental role in banishing myths and misconceptions, and thereby raising awareness on key issues, including nutrition and health, especially for adolescent girls.
Focusing on the key areas of coverage, continuity, intensity and quality of nutrition interventions as the context, the panelists deliberated on the impact of the pandemic on Poshan Abhiyaan and its target for a malnutrition-free India by 2022.
In this regard, Assam chief secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna said, “Though the pandemic has led to closure of the anganwadi centres in Assam, our anganwadi workers have ensured continuation of services to communities such as delivering Take-Home-Ration (THR), and growth monitoring of children.”
“The Government of Assam has also stressed on many innovative initiatives in regards to tackling myths and misconceptions, and ensuring awareness on proper nutrition amongst communities,” he said.
KKHSOU Vice-Chancellor Prof. Kandarpa Das in his speech focused on the role that youth can play in the grassroot level interventions to support the Jan Andolan under Poshan Abhiyaan, and how education institutions can hone their skills to benefit society.
Prof. Das said, “Universities have an important role in generating awareness on proper nutrition and developing a scientific temper among students, who can play an active role in supporting grassroot interventions and bringing social change.”
“Gender sensitivity is also the need of the hour for tackling malnutrition, and universities can play an important role in that.
“Our students come from vulnerable communities, who we believe, if provided with the right knowledge and skills, can bring an effective change,” he added.
Citing the current situation of malnutrition in Assam, UNICEF Assam’s chief of field office, Dr Madhulika Jonathan emphasized on coverage, continuity, intensity and quality of nutrition interventions to bring Poshan Abhiyaan back on track.
“The programmes under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) need to reach every child, woman and mother,” Dr Jonathan said.
“The programmes that were stalled due to COVID19 need to be reinitiated and continued.
“And, there is need to intensify efforts towards raising awareness through simplified messaging around nutrition and healthy diets, where the youth can play a significant role,” she added.
She was also reassured to see the focus of this year’s Poshan Maah on optimal nutrition in the first two years of life.
“The first 1,000 days, according to The Lancet study (September 2019), can impact a child’s brain development, which in turn impacts their physical and mental development, performance in school, intellectual capacity, and later in life, their earning capacity,” she said.
Despite the progress in child nutrition indicators, the state is still home to an estimated 1.2 million children under-5 who are stunted, about 0.8 million who are wasted and 0.3 million, who are severely wasted, and almost half (46 per cent) of the women between ages 15-49 are anemic.
Commissioner & secretary, social welfare department of Assam, Mukesh C. Sahu spoke on Poshan Abhiyaan and how it is shifting gears this year to tackle the secondary impacts of COVID.
Sahu said, “In this Poshan Maah, we have stressed upon identification and treatment of Severely Acute Malnourished (SAM) children.”