HERE is what child malnutrition looks like: Four-year-old Kamini is in agony as she lies in a government hospital in a district in Maharashtra. She has flaky skin and swollen limbs hang from a reed-thin frame revealing her life-threatening condition. She is severely undernourished and suffers from Kwashiorkor – an extremely severe form of malnourishment caused by low protein intake that leaves young children with an enlarged liver, flaky skin, thinning hair and prone to life-threatening diseases.
Then there is Anjani who is two years old but weighs less than a two-month-old infant. She is extremely weak and unable to even stand up. She suffers from chronic malnutrition, anaemia, and tuberculosis. If she does not get adequate nutrition and medical care immediately, she might not even make it past three.
There are tens of thousands of children in urban and rural India, like Kamini and Anjani, who are struggling just to survive. Even if these kids manage to make it past childhood, they will be stunted for life. Their families barely have enough food and grapple with starvation often. In several states across the country, the problem of hunger and child malnutrition is a grim reality and it has only worsened since the outbreak of Coronavirus.
Malnourishment and Covid-19
Child malnutrition is still among India’s biggest challenges with one of the highest numbers of malnourished children in the world. As per UNICEF’s World’s Children Report in 2019, 69% of deaths among children under the age of five years can be attributed to malnutrition. It also estimated that every second child under the age of five is affected by mild to acute malnutrition.
The steps taken by the central and state governments to curb child malnutrition, such as mid-day meals programmes, had started to show results with a considerable decline in related child mortality rate. Midday meals are the primary source of nutrition for children where hot cooked food is served in schools at district and village levels under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
Had the progress continued India would have met its goal of reducing under-five mortality by 25% by the year 2030. But it was suddenly halted when the COVID-19 induced lockdowns kept millions of children out of school and anganwadis remained shut .
Countless children still go to sleep hungry as their parents, who worked as daily wage workers, small vendors, etc, have been unable to make ends meet since the outbreak disrupted their lives and livelihoods. Even under normal circumstances the children from these households barely survived at subsistence level.
An impending crisis
Children die because of numerous other diseases that are directly linked to malnutrition. Those who survive are affected by poor overall development and learning outcomes. Malnutrition weakens children’s immune systems and makes them extremely vulnerable to infections and, during a pandemic such as coronavirus, puts them at greater risk of death UNICEF has stated.
According to the India Child Well-being Report 2020, nearly 115 million children are facing the threat of malnutrition due to COVID-19. It has complicated efforts to improve child nutrition and child mortality due to malnutrition could be worse in the years to come.
Join our fight against malnutrition
Food is a basic human right but millions of children are deprived of it. The pandemic has exacerbated their already perilous condition. The unavailability of food is not just impacting their health and overall development but also putting them at a greater health risk.
We are working with our NGO partners to distribute nutrition kits containing sprouts, pulses, health drinks, fruits, and other iron and protein-rich food items to poor children across regions in the country. Nutritious food will boost their immune system and reduce the risk of COVID-19. It only takes ₹1,000 per month to safeguard one child from malnutrition and funds are needed now more than ever to help NGOs deliver the necessary aid to malnourished children.
Join our efforts to fight hunger. Please donate online to our Mission: No Child Hungry. Your donations will help us reach more children in need and provide them with adequate nutrition. Together we can save the children from malnutrition and ensure healthy growth for all.
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Samar is a Marketing Communications specialist and freelance writer. She has a master’s in marketing and creativity from ESCP Business School. She is an avid traveler and likes to write about technology, travel, wildlife and sustainability.