From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Environmental enteropathy
Mains level : Paper 2- Addressing the nutrition problem through WASH
A recent UNICEF report stated that nearly 12 lakh children could die in low-income countries in the next six months due to a decrease in routine health services and an increase in wasting. Nearly three lakh such children would be from India.
Problem of nutrition in India and factors responsible for it
- The National Family Health Survey (NFHS 5) indicates that since the onset of the pandemic, acute undernourishment in children below the age of five has worsened.
- According to the latest data, 37.9 per cent of children under five are stunted, and 20.8 per cent are wasted — a form of malnutrition in which children are too thin for their height.
- Comparison with other countries: This is much higher than in other developing countries where, on average, 25 per cent of children suffer from stunting and 8.9 per cent are wasted.
- Factors: Inadequate dietary intake is the most direct cause of undernutrition.
- Several other factors also affect nutritional outcomes, such as contaminated drinking water, poor sanitation, and unhygienic living conditions.
- According to the World Health Organisation, 50 per cent of all mal- and under-nutrition can be traced to diarrhoea and intestinal worm infections.
- Nutrition and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are intricately linked, and changes in one tend, directly or indirectly, to affect the other.
- Poor hygiene and sanitation in developing countries lead to a sub-clinical condition called “environmental enteropathy” in children.
- Environmental enteropathy is a disorder of the intestine which prevents the proper absorption of nutrients, rendering them effectively useless.
- Childhood diarrhoea is a major public health problem in low- and middle-income countries, leading to high mortality in children under five.
- According to NFHS 4, approximately 9 percent of children under five years of age in India experience diarrhoeal disease.
- Investment in WASH: The link between WASH and nutrition suggests that greater attention to, and investments in, WASH are a sure-shot way of bolstering the country’s nutritional status.
- Addressing nutrition sanitation problems together: Both WASH and nutrition must be addressed together through a lens of holistic, sustainable community engagement to enable long-term impact.
- One of the first instances of the link between WASH and nutrition appeared in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, which urges states to ensure “adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water” to combat disease and malnutrition.
- Safe drinking water, proper sanitation, and hygiene can significantly reduce diarrhoeal and nutritional deaths.
- Multistructural approach: What we require is a coordinated, multisectoral approach among the health, water, sanitation, and hygiene bodies, not to mention strong community engagement.
- WHO has estimated that access to proper water, hygiene, and sanitation can prevent the deaths of at least 8,60,000 children a year caused by undernutrition.
At the end of the day, all sides are working towards a common goal: A safe and healthy population and the hope that the 75th year of Independence becomes a watershed moment in India’s journey.