Thursday, May 26, 2022

Nutrition in COVID-19 Times

Ravi Bhatnagar, Director, External Affairs and Partnerships, Reckitt, talks about the challenges and solutions to tackle malnutrition as India battles with the worst known pandemics in history.

Nutrition in COVID-19 Times
Ravi Bhatnagar, Director, External Affairs and Partnerships, Reckitt

Do you think the pandemic has derailed India’s nutrition journey?

The second wave has reached the villages. In my opinion, vaccination has to be the priority, especially for the last mile workers such as those working in aganwadis and mid-day meal centres. As they handle children who are more susceptible to the disease, they have to be healthy. And if they are not vaccinated and aligned on COVID-19 SOPs, then the chances of derailment of food access services are high.

The Mid-Day meal programme is spread across 117 aspirational districts all over India. To ensure that the supply chain and food security are not disrupted, India can probably redesign the programme and food can be delivered to the homes. This would address the nutritional needs.

Besides the nutritional needs, the early learning goals of the children have also been disrupted. When meeting at school, they learned to use their motor skills, socialized with peers. India needs to devise a mechanism to reach out to the communities and the kids so that the early learning development goals, along with food security, are taken care of.

How has technology helped in this nutrition journey?

It’s very interesting how India has evolved digitally. Aarogya Setu app gives us all the information about COVID-19, tracks our vaccination dosage, and is a passport to enter public spaces such as malls, office buildings. Technology needs to be leveraged so that both India and Bharat can open.

All of us need to come together, for instance, with Outlook as a media group and Reckitt as a consumer company, and propagate the idea of SMS--Safe Hands, Wearing a Mask, Social Distancing--and vaccine for all.

Many children have lost their parents? What can be done to give them a better life?

The devastating second wave has left many kids orphaned. Some of them are in the sensitive age group of 0-5 years and they need more care. It’s not just food; they also need caregivers for emotional and mental wellbeing. 

I do see the news of many state governments announcing lifelong free education for these children. We need to work on more welfare programmes for these children together.

Can there be a model for building synergies across domains: public, private, and civil society?

The days of polio vaccination were also difficult. But COVID-19 vaccine will be available everywhere eventually. Of course, there are challenges as India has different kinds of terrain and the issue of each region is different. Almost 22,000 km are islands and deltas. Then there are remote mountainous regions of Leh-Ladakh, Sunderbans in West Bengal where challenges are different.  

We never thought that the second wave would be so devastating. We had relief measures in place but not to the extent that was required to deal with the situation. In February, I visited Amravati and there was panic as a new strain had been discovered. But we handled it well. Everyone in the company has been very proactive in implementing the measures and there has not been single mortality. The new strain has now been identified across India.

At Reckitt, we are trying some pilots and will come out with good practices on how to improve the service delivery, better nutrition practices, and on the first 1000 days during COVID-19. The more prepared we get, the faster we will mobilize the resources. Our model is culturally adaptive. This is the time to act fast, learn fast, move fast and share it with others.

Many believe that the economy has slid and CSR initiatives and drives have also taken a hit. What is your opinion on this?

I don’t know from where the thought is coming that India is spending less on CSR, India is spending more on CSR. Everyone is very, very actively participating to create an enabling environment to respond to COVID-19. The government is allowing the corporates to spend monies on COVID-19 relief measures. People have opened doors; malls are now giving entry for drive-in vaccinations. There are philanthropic efforts to set up oxygen plants, providing ICU beds, oxygen concentrators, ventilators. Everyone is doing their best at this time.

You are in a purpose-driven business. What keeps you motivated?

Best practices of industry leaders are motivating. With these leaders, we see the intent to serve, the intent to provide the last-mile service. Our global leadership, CEO Laxman Narasimhan, who is in the UK, is as much concerned about our wellbeing as our family members. These learnings keep me motivated.