SHILLONG, Aug 09: Among the North East states, Meghalaya is home to the most number of stunted children who are under 5 years of age as was revealed on Tuesday.
The revelation was made during a state level consultation on Accelerating Progress toward Good Nutrition for All in Meghalaya which was inaugurated by the Additional Chief Secretary, Y Tshering on Tuesday.
During the consultation which was organised by the Government of Meghalaya, Social Welfare Department, State Resource Centre for Women (SRCW) in collaboration with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the India Institute of Public Health Shillong (IIPHS), it was also revealed that Meghalaya has made some improvements in health and nutrition status of women and children, but the progress is slow.
While Assam registered 40.6 percent of children under this same category, the rates have been shown to be above the national average rate of 38.7 per cent. Being stunted means that these children are not fulfilling their potential. Their brains and immune systems are compromised. The IHR cites open defecation and inadequate hand washing as reasons for poor health among children, leading to malnourishment.
Presenting the Keynote Address at the event, Y Tsering emphasised the importance of focusing on quality care and services and not just the numbers. In this regard, he said, “Holistic, state-level actions are needed to address nutrition in Meghalaya. There is a need to look at food habits in rural areas and create awareness on importance of nutritious food, healthy lifestyle, education for women and girls and water, sanitation and hygiene practices. Education plays an important role in shaping the perceptions of children, therefore, educators play a key role in spreading health literacy.” Tsering released the Meghalaya dashboard – a report with data specific to Meghalaya’s nutritional indicators.
The Mission Director- SRCW, Ivyreen Warjri spoke about key initiatives of the Government to address under nutrition. Warjri highlighted the importance of women’s empowerment for achieving better nutrition and health outcomes in Meghalaya.
Distinguished Professor, PHFI and co-author of the India Health Report research, Professor Ramanan Laxminarayan said, “In this inaugural India Health Report (IHR), we focused on the topic of child stunting and malnutrition. The data has highlighted that if the population of stunted children in India were a single country, it would be the ninth largest country in the world.”
IIPH-S Director, Professor Sandra Albert said that often our people do not suffer from overt hunger as they eat diets rich in carbohydrates but they remain malnourished due to lack of proteins and micro nutrients.
Presenting data on Meghalaya’s nutrition status, Lead Economist, PHFI and author of the IHR, Dr Neha Raykar said “Strategies that accelerate improvements in child stunting in Meghalaya will need to focus on health of adolescent girls and women as well as their educational and socioeconomic status. Moreover, there are considerable disparities and inequities in nutritional outcomes and their drivers across districts of Meghalaya that state programmes need to address. “
An eminent group of panelists with representatives from Social Welfare Department, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Department of Education, Food and Nutrition Board and NIPCCD discussed how the current rate of improvement in nutritional status of children in Meghalaya can be accelerated further and will identify priorities and multi-sectoral pathways towards good nutrition for all. The panelists suggested improving inter-sectoral coordination and creating synergy by focusing on key underlying determinants of nutrition: education, water and sanitation, gender and equity.
The meeting was attended by 120 participants including Government of Meghalaya officials from Departments of Health and Family Welfare, Women and Child Development, Education, Tribal Welfare, Social Welfare, non-governmental organisations working on health and nutrition issues, academic institutions and development partners.