India saw a dip of over 14% in the number of malnourished children in the age group of 0 to 6 years -- the sharpest decline in 25 years -- a UNICEF survey has revealed. The country, however, lags behind sub-Saharan Africa where 21% children are malnourished.
According to the survey, commissioned by the women and child development ministry of the UPA-2 government, the percentage of underweight children in the age group of 0-6 went down from 45.1% in 2005-06 to an all-time low of 30.7% in 2013-14. The percentage of children with stunted growth also went down from 48% to 39% during the same period, the Rapid Survey on Children said.
Though the report was finalised in October last year, the current women and child development ministry released the findings on its website eight months late on Thursday. The report presents data collected between November 2013 and May 2014 when the Congress-led UPA was in power at the Centre.
According to a report in The Economist, the UNICEF survey was held up as the malnourishment percentage for Gujarat was higher than the national figure and publishing the same would have been an embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was the chief minister of Gujarat then.
However, officials of the women and child development ministry, which has not endorsed the report, attributed the delay to verification of the findings and said the data on the website was provisional. But their counterparts in the health ministry said the improved results could be indicative of the success of UPA’s flagship schemes like the National Rural Health Mission.
“The key to the progress of the country lies in reducing maternal and child mortality and morbidity. Over the years, the Centre has taken many initiatives and results are now becoming evident. After the launch of the National Rural Health Mission in 2005, significant improvements have taken place in building the health infrastructure in the country,” a senior health ministry official said.
Apart from malnutrition, the Rapid Survey on Children also revealed improvement in other indicators of the well-being of children below six years and their mothers.
For example, the total immunization coverage in India increased from 61% to 65.2% from 2009 to 2013-14 though it dipped in Gujarat from 56.6% to 56.2% in the same period. As against the national average of 6.7%, 6.2% children in Gujarat did not receive any vaccination during the period.
According to the report, the percentage of “wasted” children (low weight for given height) in the country fell from 20% to 15%. The number of infants aged under six months who are exclusively breastfed also went up from 46 % to 72 %.
The UNICEF report is based on a nationwide household-cum-facility survey in 28 states and New Delhi. The survey covered 105,483 households and 5,630 Anganwadi centres leading to more than 210,000 interviews.