India battles malnutrition with fortified food

July 21st, 2011 - 8:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, July 21 (IANS) India’s biggest ever drive to counter malnutrition in the western state of Rajasthan will soon roll out with wheat flour, oil and milk being fortified with extra vitamins and nutrients.

This was announced by the project implementation partners during a health writers’ convention held here Thursday.

As per available figures compiled by various NGOs, around 75 percent of children and 55 percent of pregnant women suffer from malnutrition in Rajasthan.

Addressing health writers during a convention on food fortification, eminent experts stressed on the importance of food fortification, pointing out that it will help the state achieve inclusive growth.

The day-long convention saw participation from some prominent health writers and editors of the country.

The gathering was addressed by experts from the international developmental organization, GAIN (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition) and by speakers from the Institute of Health Management and Research (IIHMR), Jaipur.

IIHMR is spearheading this fortification drive with technical and financial support from GAIN.

Experts felt that the fortification drive is unique as it includes the fortification of oil and milk in addition to wheat flour. Oil is a very suitable food for fortification with vitamin A since its use is widespread across households.

Experts said the strategy is expected to be very effective in reaching out to rural Rajasthan as people buy oil from the market and it is easy to ensure supply of fortified oil in these areas through regular distribution channels.

Milk is another good food product for fortification especially in semi urban areas in Rajasthan. In the rural areas consumption might not be high because people own milch animals. The universal consumption of oil and milk across households makes them very effective vehicles for fortification.

“To create demand, increasing awareness among the population about the overt effects of micronutrient deficiency is a prerequisite. Quality assurance is another important aspect on which the project will train its sights,” said Dr. Dhirendra Kumar, project director PMU (project management unit), IIHMR .

The massive food fortification drive aims to bring down high levels of anaemia and vitamin A deficiency that has been hampering the state’s progress and economic growth for several years.

This will involve supplying edible oil, milk and wheat flour fortified with essential nutrients in all the 33 districts of the western state laying special emphasis on educating people about the benefits of food fortification.

Vitamin A deficiency is another common nutrient deficiency in Rajasthan. Food vehicles like oil and milk fortified with vitamin A serve as effective tools in combating vitamin A deficiency.

Outlining GAIN’s mission, Deepti Gulati, senior programme associate, GAIN said: “To make the food fortification programme in the country successful, IIHMR is partnering the state government, wheat flour millers and other stakeholders with GAIN providing financial and technical support. The objective is to reduce wide-spread anaemia and vitamin A deficiency in Rajasthan through micronutrient fortified wheat flour, milk and oil”.

Fortified food products will be made available through open market and also be supplied through the public distribution system (PDS). For instance, fortified milk will be supplied or distributed by Saras Dairy in Rajasthan.

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