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Saturday, April 17, 2021

World Health Day: 5 reasons why India needs to pay more attention to child health

A sum of Rs 24,435 crore was set aside for the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry for the next fiscal year in the Budget announced this year, a 16.31 per cent increase over the 2020-21 financial year. But will just that help in improving children's health?

A developing country like India which is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world currently is also home to the largest number of children. Nearly every fifth young child in the world lives in India. It is estimated that there are about 43 crore children in the age group of 0-18 years. However, the status of children’s health in India is in a position that should concern the government and people of the country. On the occasion of World Health Day this year, let’s talk about 5 reasons why India needs to pay more attention to child health.

A sum of Rs 24,435 crore was set aside for the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry for the next fiscal year in the Budget announced this year, a 16.31 per cent increase over the 2020-21 financial year. In 2020-21, Rs 30,007.09 crore was allocated which was revised to Rs 21,008.31 crore. However, just an increase in the budget wouldn’t cut it. In India, children’s health depends on multiple factors and the government needs to take things seriously. Here we lay down 5 reasons why India needs to pay more attention to child health.

Malnourishment needs fixing

According to the NFHS-4 (2015-16) data, the state of Kerala has the most number of nourished kids with more than 80 per cent clearing the basic nourishment criteria. The southern state is followed closely by Mizoram, Manipur, Sikkim, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, Punjab, and Himachal Pradesh. However, the picture is quite grim in a few other states. On the other hand, more than almost 50 per cent of Jharkhand’s kids are malnourished. States like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, which constitute a chunk of the country’s population, are not doing well either.
How do you identify malnourished children? Kids who have stunted growth, wasting and underweight are considered malnourished. Stunting, or low height for that age, is caused by long-term insufficient nutrient intake and frequent infections or illnesses. It generally occurs before the age of two years, and effects, which are mostly irreversible, include delayed motor development, impaired cognitive function and poor school performance among most children. More than 38 per cent of children in India are stunted. According to a report by Niti Aayog, Nourishing India – National Nutrition Strategy, “Child Undernutrition remains high, despite improvements over the last decade. As evident, while stunting and underweight prevalence have gone down, trends in wasting show an overall increase in the last decade. The decrease in stunting has been from 48 per cent to 38.4 per cent, that is, by one percentage point per year.”

Maternal health is important for children’s health

A study on inequalities in child health in India published in the BMJ Journal stated that the health of the mother is clearly related to the health of the child. “A malnourished mother is likely to result in malnutrition in the young infant. Antenatal care is crucial for the birth of a healthy baby. One in five women in India receives no antenatal care. There are huge variations in the provision of antenatal care across India,” it read. The lack of antenatal care for numerous women during pregnancy is probably one of the major reasons for the high maternal mortality ratio in India, the study opined. “Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which both have excellent antenatal care, have achieved the millennium development goal target of a maternal mortality ratio of 109 deaths per 100,000 live births. The states with the poorest antenatal care also had the highest maternal mortality rate ratios,” it concluded.

Women empowerment too plays a major role

Women in this country are not yet safe let alone be empowered. But they play an extremely important role in the health of children. Thus their empowerment too is needed. One in three women is illiterate in India. Even in the 21st century, in rural areas mostly, women still require permission from a man in the family before being allowed to travel or use money to pay for either healthcare consultations or drug treatment. Thus along with awareness and education, women’s empowerment is equally important for a child’s wellbeing. It is directly related as seen in Kerala which has the most number of educated women, also has the best health outcomes for children there.

Immunization plays a key role in improving children’s health

Proper immunization has been observed to reduce infant and child mortality in the country. The World Health Organisation considers infants fully vaccinated if they have received Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) against tuberculosis, three doses of the diphtheria pertussis and tetanus vaccine, three doses of the polio vaccine and one dose of the measles vaccine by the age of one year. Unfortunately, as per studies and reports, only 36 per cent of children were fully vaccinated by the age of 12 months. This is a staggering number of children who have not received immunization when necessary. Betterment of infrastructure, accessibility, proper policy implementation might help improve the status of immunisation of children in India.

Eradication of poverty

Finally, the most relevant reason why India needs to pay more attention to child health — eradicate poverty to improve children’s health in India. It is not easy as it sounds, but it is not something completely undoable. Socioeconomic determinants play a major role in the health of young children. Things such as improving sanitation have been observed to have a significant effect on reducing child mortality. However, only around 35 per cent of the population in India have access to improved sanitation facilities. Poverty and malnutrition have always been the major problems in India. We hope better governance in the future brings about the much-needed change in society and the country.

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