[R-G] Even Amid Its Wealth, India Finds, Half Its Small Children Are Malnourished
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Sat Feb 10 08:33:51 MST 2007
February 10, 2007
Even Amid Its Wealth, India Finds, Half Its Small Children Are Malnourished
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
MUMBAI, India, Feb. 9 — Even after India's years of sustained economic
growth, child malnutrition rates here are comparable to some of the
poorest countries, and at times worse.
In this young nation, where 40 percent of the people are under 18,
figures released by the government on Friday offered an alarming
portrait of child health: Among children under 3, nearly half are
clinically underweight, the most reliable measure of malnutrition.
Additionally troubling, the incidence of child malnutrition declined
only one percentage point, to 46 percent, in seven years, according
the latest National Family Health Survey. During that time, the
economy grew at 6 to 8 percent; it is poised to swell by more than 9
percent in the current fiscal year, the government announced this
India's economic prospects pivot in part around what it calls its
But the child malnutrition rates put India roughly on a par with
Burkina Faso and Bangladesh. Sudan posted better results, according to
data compiled by the United Nations Children's Fund, or Unicef.
Malnutrition in China was about 8 percent, Unicef said.
The long-awaited health report, which was quietly made public on
Friday on a government Web site, also showed scant progress in
childhood immunization. In the survey, compiled in 2005-6, 43.5
percent of children 12 to 23 months old were fully immunized, compared
with 42 percent in the previous survey, in 1998-99.
Poverty amid plenty is hardly new in India. But the latest numbers are
startling because they suggest that economic growth has not
significantly uplifted the most destitute, nor have well-meaning
government efforts to improve children's well-being yielded measurable
The nutrition figures also reflect the grinding poverty in parts of
rural India, and poor public health and sanitation in general. The
health survey measured how many households had access to a toilet (44
percent nationwide) and the proportion of children who suffered from
diarrhea and who were given oral rehydration salts (58 percent).
"It's partly poverty, it's partly the collapse of health services,
it's a measure of a completely lopsided pattern of growth in the
country," said Jean Drèze, an economist who led a study of India's
child nutrition programs late last year.
The nutrition figures showed a wide disparity among states. In central
Madhya Pradesh, malnutrition rates are around 60 percent; in Tamil
Nadu, the rates have steadily improved, bringing malnutrition down to
The national figures could be seen as an indictment of an ambitious
government-financed program, the Integrated Child Development
Services, which is intended to help poor families feed their children.
The program has been dogged by criticism in recent months, from
charges of corruption in some states to poor accountability elsewhere.
Studies by both Unicef and Mr. Drèze's group have concluded that in
some places, children get only raw grains. Some workers were not
properly trained and some mothers were inadequately counseled about
Werner Schultink, who runs child development and nutrition programs
for Unicef in India, called the latest figures "very disappointing."
"It gives an indication that some of the programs are not as effective
as they should be," he said. In mid-January, Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh went further in his criticism, urging state officials to review
the child nutrition program.
"There is strong evidence that the program has not led to any
substantial improvement in the nutritional status of children under
6," he wrote in a letter, adding that for the government actually to
keep its promise of providing nutrition to poor children, it would
require close monitoring of the program, and "political will."
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