India failing to secure good health for infants: report

December 10th, 2008 - 1:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Mani Shankar AiyarNew Delhi, Dec 10 (IANS) India has scored a dismal 69 out of 150 in a latest report on the state of infant feeding practices, which has revealed that a majority of indicators on support meted to women for breastfeeding and policies for its advocacy are in a dismal state in the country.The report is an outcome of the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) launched in 51 countries across Asia, Africa, Latin America launched earlier in the year by International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) to track, assess and monitor policies and programmes to protect kids from malnutrition and in turn support breastfeeding.

It was released at the India International Centre (IIC) here Tuesday by Union Minister for Panchayati Raj Mani Shankar Aiyar.

The report was compiled in India based on government surveys, information and documents procured under the Right to Information Act (RTI) as recent as October. The details came with a flashy report card that slammed the country’s performance on various indicators.

For instance, just 24 percent of newborns start breast feeding within an hour from their birth. Only 46 percent of infants aged less than six months are exclusively breastfed - there is a drop from about 70 percent in the first month to 27 percent in the sixth.

“The high infant mortality and child malnutrition stems from the fact that in its first crucial months the child’s health is not safeguarded and breastfeeding is neglected,” Vandana Prasad, a pediatrician and a prominent public health and nutrition advocate, said at the release.

“There are only guidelines for advocacy of infant and young child feeding (IYCF) - no national level authority, no legislative entitlements to the mothers and most importantly no budget allocation or political will - all these are necessary,” she added.

On the indicator of national policy, programme and coordination for IYCF, the country scored a poor two out of 10.

“The report highlights deficiencies in all areas that require action, justifying a highly coordinated and budgeted activity for achieving optimal breast feeding,” Aiyar admitted.

There is a policy for infant nutrition in India, vaguely etched out in the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and the hugely popular mid-day meal scheme by the ministry for women and child development, the report pointed out.

But Prasad felt this was not enough.

“There is more focus on anganwadi (mother and child care centres) and supplementary foods without attention on provision of crèches or information on health of newly born children that can be safeguarded with advocacy about desired feeding practices,” she said.

Citing some of the report’s recommendations, Prasad said: “There has been some progress in provision of maternity entitlements to women in central government services. But we are ignoring the 95 percent of women engaged in the informal sector. They need crèches and other entitlements promoting breastfeeding. They need trained help in accordance with existing laws and recommended policies.”

For bridging the gaps and rectifying lapses, coordinated efforts and involvement of local governance institutions was necessary, recommended the report.

“Panchayati Raj institutions can play an indispensable role in propagating, promoting and sustaining such initiatives. Even incentives on the lines of the Nirmal Gram Puraskar can achieve desired results,” acknowledged Aiyar.

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