Why foreign advice on malnutrition, ask Madhya Pradesh activists

June 25th, 2009 - 9:47 am ICT by IANS  

By Sanjay Sharma
Bhopal, June 25 (IANS) First the Madhya Pradesh government turned a blind eye to the acute problem of malnutrition among children and now it is taking the advice of foreign agencies to combat it, say angry activists who have been in the field for a long time.

These activists disapprove of Thai nutrition expert Kraisid Tontisirin’s visit here earlier this week and say the state has enough manpower and skill to handle the problem on its own.

“Malnutrition has been a serious issue for Madhya Pradesh, but the state government has spent very little energy on brainstorming to eradicate the lifelong disadvantageous problem,” said Rolly Shivhare of the NGO Right to Food Campaign.

“Now once again it is looking towards external agencies for preparing a nutrition action plan for the state and giving no space for panchayats, gram sabhas (local bodies) and civil society organisations in making a down-to-earth action plan,” Shivhare told IANS.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has met Tontisirin, a nutrition expert and member of the policy board of The Thailand Research Fund. On Wednesday, he instructed officials to prepare a plan to combat malnutrition on the model developed by Thailand.

Tontisirin has visited anganwaadi (mother and child) centres in various blocks of Vidisha district. The Thai expert also shared with state officials his experiences of successfully combating malnutrition in Thailand in the 1980s when the situation of the country was almost similar to the position in Madhya Pradesh.

But health and social activists point out that the state was in complete “denial” all this while when it came to malnutrition deaths.

“Professor Kraisid has also said the Madhya Pradesh government is very enthusiastic to work in the direction of the malnutrition eradication programme, but the state was in complete denial since June 2008 when the issues of malnutrition deaths were raised by the Right to Food Campaign and the media,” said Sachin Kumar Jain of the Madhya Pradesh Lok Sangarsh Saajha Manch.

“It is thus difficult to say whether the government is really serious or just becoming a ground for implementing the agendas of international agencies,” he added.

“Madhya Pradesh has a network of 140,000 anganwadi (mother and child welfare) workers and ASHAs (female community health activists), but the state government could not earn their faith and the village workers are not in a position to handle the problem,” Jain said.

“The system purely works in a colonial and fragmented manner in Madhya Pradesh. We have not linked the millennium development goals, like infant mortality with the high level of malnutrition. We are just applying two totally different approaches for two interdependent problems,” Jain told IANS.

Prashant Dubey, another activist, said: “The state government could not prepare its own nutrition policy in so many years. Earlier an international agency (Danida) drafted the health policy, that is still a draft after eight years.

“And now again the government is looking towards the DFID (Britain’s Department For International Development), for preparing the nutrition policy.”

“The question is don’t we have the skills and confidence to prepare a policy for our people?” Dubey said.

“The state government is looking at taking big steps through these kinds of visits, but why don’t they work on basic issues such as early detection of malnutrition, referral services, community-based care and prevention techniques, payment and nutrition supply to anganwadi workers?

“The government has changed its nutrition supply system six times in the last six years. They are just experimenting with the small kids,” Dubey said.

Shivhare said: “We just allocate Rs.325 crore against the need of Rs.1,500 crore. As per the projected population of 12.1 million children under the age of six years, Madhya Pradesh requires Rs.726 crore and for the treatment of severe, acute malnourished children Rs.125 crore is required.

“Along with this to cover the need of three million pregnant and lactating women and six million adolescent girls Rs.650 crore will be needed. It is thus doubtful whether just a paper-based colourful plan will work.”

(Sanjay Sharma can be contacted at sanjay.s@ians.in)

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