Days after the fifth round of the national family health survey (NHFS-5) results showed reversal of the gains on most of the indicators of nutrition in 22 states and union territories in 2020-21, the government has recently announced the roll-out of Mission Poshan 2.0, raising hopes that a better strategy will be adopted to contain malnutrition in the country.
Under the Saksham Anganwadi and Mission Poshan 2.0, the government has subsumed four existing centrally sponsored schemes of umbrella Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) — Anganwadi Services, Poshan Abhiyan, Scheme for Adolescent Girls and the National Crèche Scheme.
While announcing the rollout of Mission Poshan 2.0, finance minister in her budget speech on Monday said supplementary nutrition program, one of the key components of the ICDS, will be merged with the Poshan Abhiyan strengthen nutritional content, delivery, outreach, and outcome
The government will adopt an “intensified strategy” to improve nutritional outcomes across 112 aspirational districts, she also said.
Union minister for women and child development Smriti Irani said that Mission Poshan 2.0, prioritizing 112 aspirational districts, will develop practices that will nurture health, wellness and immunity of children and pregnant women, making “a concerted effort” towards eradicating malnutrition from its roots.
It will focus on the overall health and wellbeing of the beneficiaries.” Integrated approach in the delivery of nutrition services will reinforce the fight against malnutrition,” she also said, adding that Saksham Anganwadi will not only upgrade Anganwadi infrastructure but also transform them into learning and healthcare centers for children.
“It will be done in collaboration with the ministry of health and family welfare and the education ministry as part of the ECCE (early childhood care and education) under the NEP (National Education Policy), the WCD minister added.
But, it remained unclear as to how the government will achieve its target.
While the government is yet to make details of the Saksham Anganwadi and Mission Poshan 2.0 available in the public domain, the finance ministry has earmarked an estimated budget of Rs 20,105 crore for the program for fiscal 2021-22, which is 18.33 per cent lower than the budgetary estimates for the last fiscal.
The budget estimates for the four schemes, which have been merged to roll out Saksham Anganwadi and Mission Poshan 2.0, was at Rs 24557.38 crore for 2020-21. It was later revised to keep at Rs 17,917.31 crore for the same fiscal year. The actual expenditure on the implementation of the four schemes came at Rs 18927.67 crore.
Multiple forms of malnutrition have been rampant in India across all age groups for several decades now. The Covid-19 has severely exacerbated the country’s already abysmal public health and nutrition scenario. On top of that, the recent NFHS-5 preliminary findings have also reflected poorly on India’s vulnerable population especially young children, pregnant women and adolescents. Both under-nutrition and overweight obesity has worsened. Both these major considerations beg sincere attention and resources to prevent any further backsliding on nutrition indicators.
“This tight budget appears disappointing during these challenging times when we needed strengthened health and nutrition services, motivated frontline workers, capacity building exercises, outreach and delivery, filled up vacant posts, improved quality nutrition for all citizens, especially for our underprivileged children,” says Shweta Khandelwal, who heads nutrition research at Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).
However, if state governments are proactive and decide to prioritize public health and nutrition, allocate resources generously to improve and strengthen the nutrition services and other components, there may be some ray of hope “in the bleak future” of millions of children in the country.
“If India is serious about ‘Kuposhan Mukt Bharat’ (Malnutrition Free India), we will need to seriously introspect and advocate for optimal nutrition for all,” she adds.
Sujeet Ranjan, executive director of the Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security, hailed the government’s decision to roll out Mission Poshan 2.0, calling it a “positive move”.
“While the budget seeks to strengthen the country’s public health in a mission mode, Mission Poshan 2.0 intends to enhance the nutritional contents, delivery and outreach. That was the expectation and need of the hour,” he says
However, the impact of the program will depend on how the government implements it with the help of the experts and the civil society organizations, he adds.
Purnima Menon, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), says programmatic aspects of the Mission Poshan 2.0 can be analyzed for its efficacy when it comes in the public domain.
“What appears from the budget is that it is just bundling of the various schemes. The merger of the supplementary nutrition program with the Poshan Abhiyan is business as usual. There is no increase in the allocations,” she adds.