A recent screening for malnutrition in children under the age of 6 in the tribal-dominated district of Nandurbar, conducted by the Maharashtra government between June and July this year, showed that nearly 15 percent of the children in the sample group were identified as malnourished. This is a significant increase from the previous survey in May, which identified just 7 percent of children as malnourished.
The district collector has claimed in a written response to the core committee set up by the state government that this increase in the number of malnourished children is due to some of these children moving to locations outside the district along with their families during the monsoon, which is affecting their food intake .
The state-appointed core committee was formed in 2018 in response to a PIL motion by activist Bandu Sampatrao Sane regarding malnutrition in tribal areas.
The committee annually addresses issues related to child and maternal nutrition in 16 districts in the state with high tribal populations.
Data available at The Sunday Express shows that in May a total of 1,76,393 children aged up to six years were screened in six blocks of Nandurbar, of whom 12,255 – 6.95 per cent of the total sample size – were identified as malnourished. As many as 1,397 or 0.79% were identified with severe acute malnutrition (SAM), while an additional 10,858 or 6.16% children were identified with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM).
In June-July, the number of malnourished children skyrocketed, even though the sample size of the children surveyed decreased. Of the 1,60,504 children surveyed, 23,515, or 14.65 percent of the total sample size, were malnourished. Detection of SAM increased to 3,554 or 2.21 percent children. A total of 19,961 or 12.4 percent of these were detected with MAM.
Such a high incidence of malnutrition was last recorded in 2020, when the national lockdown impacted nutrition programs across the state.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines malnutrition as a deficiency, excess or imbalance in a person’s nutrient intake. It defines SAM by very low body weight or a mean upper arm circumference (MUAC) of less than 115 mm or the presence of nutritional edema. MAM, also known as “Wasting”, is detected when the MUAC is greater than or equal to 115mm and less than 125mm.
After submitting the Rapid Assessment of Child and Maternal Health report, Nandurbar district collector Manisha Khatri submitted a compliance report this week attributing the seasonal migration of children for the figures in question. “The families immigrated with their children from the Nandurbar districts from October to April/May. When they come back, we do a special screening to assess nutrition. As a result, the number of malnourished children is increasing,” the letter said.
However, the lawyer Bandu Sane and Latika Rajput, a member of the core committee, also blamed the lack of facilities and the accessibility of health care as a reason for the high incidence of malnutrition in the region.
“Nandurbar is a hilly region where healthcare accessibility is the biggest challenge. Existing Anganwadi centers remain closed, primary health centers lack infrastructure and nutritional programs are not adequately implemented,” Sane said.
Newsletter | Click here to get the best explainers of the day delivered to your inbox
Ravi Duggal, a health finance expert who conducted a study on the link between malnutrition and the availability of work in Nandurbar in the 1990s, found that in places where MGNREGA work was restricted, the incidence of malnutrition increased was higher.
“People in Nandurbar have very little arable land, so people are demanding work. If they don’t get jobs under MGNREGA, they have to migrate to other states in the summer to work there. Sometimes the parents take their children with them or leave them in the village with the elderly. But in either case, their food intake will be affected,” Duggal said.