By Dr Sujeet Ranjan
Happy Mother’s Day! ‘Ma’, ‘Janani’ is primarily derived from the Sanskrit word meaning mother, Janani is conceptualized to be a woman who takes care of her children and family safeguarding them from all worries and troubles. All of us are from a country which has taught us that ‘Mother and motherland are superior to Heaven. Mothers play a critical role in ensuring the health, nutrition, and overall well being of the entire family.They generally play the lead role in processing, preparing, serving, and storing food and drinking water.
Poor nutrition a cause of health problems
India’s greatest national treasure is our people. We cannot afford to neglect their wellbeing and allow our mothers to face hunger and malnutrition. After more than seventy years as an independent nation, we still have many women and children who are suffering from malnutrition. Although India has made enormous advancements in medicine, technology, science, and numerous other disciplines, and has experienced unparalleled economic growth over the past decade, yet malnutrition remains unacceptably high. Poor nutrition is a major cause of other health problems in the country, including high infant and maternal mortality.
Importance of mother’s health and nutrition
Empowering and educating women about health and nutrition not only benefit them, but also to their entire family as well as community. However, persistent gender inequalities in rural and urban communities adversely affect the health and nutrition status of girls and women. The Lancet review on international nutrition outcomes (2007) concluded that reducing gender inequality in families and societies creates a healthier environment for girls and women throughout their lives and may prevent intergenerational malnutrition. We need to understand that girls, women, and mothers have special nutritional requirements. Women need additional iron during their reproductive years and additional protein and calories during pregnancy and lactation. Post-menopausal women are susceptible to osteoporosis, which could partly be due to their poor vitamin D status and low calcium intake. The health and nutritional condition of mothers is integrally linked with the health and nutritional status of their children. India has a very high percentage of low birth weight babies, which is linked with maternal undernutrition and anaemia.
Special nutritional requirements for women
Women have special nutritional requirements throughout their life cycle, particularly, in India they often suffer from poorer nutrition than men. In addition, the health and nutritional status of a mother is integrally linked with the health and nutritional status of her child, meaning that women’s health and nutritional status has an inter-generational impact and significantly influences the health of future generations.
Based on my learning and experience, there are few proven interventions that can make a difference towards nutrition in girls and women. There is a need to initiate a comprehensive and coordinated national nutrition education programme, sensitize equity and gender issues, increase “nutrition literacy” and promote key nutrition behaviours such as consumption of more nutritious foods, use of iodised salt, iron supplementation, deworming, use of safe drinking water, and hand washing. This is the time to expand focus on girl’s, woman’s and mother’s nutrition within existing national programmes such as the National Health Program (NHM), Public Distribution System (PDS), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, amongst others.
Strong linkage between family planning and nutrition
There is a strong linkage between Family Planning and Nutrition. Through an in-depth review of literature and secondary data analysis (by National Family Health Survey), it affirms that greater emphasis should be given to the birth order, birth spacing and birth timing as it reduces under-nutrition. Also, adopting spacing and limiting family planning methods reduces maternal & child malnutrition. There is a need to increase access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation facilities through expanded infrastructure and use of appropriate low-cost technologies. Community level workers (especially, Anganwadi Workers, ASHA, Auxiliary Nurse Midwives, and teachers) should be strengthened with updated knowledge and skills to improve their performance and contribution in the nutrition area. National programmes should be expanded to address gender equity, especially keeping girls in school, and increasing their economic opportunities (e.g., vocational training, microcredit, and self-help groups) and advocating for the age of marriage after 18 years.
There should be an increase in Access to Basic Health Services: Expand coverage of key health services such as complete ante/postnatal care and safe delivery. Introduce anaemia screening and weight monitoring for adolescent girls and pregnant women as part of a standard package of services provided through Village Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Days (VHSNDs) and Health Facilities. Healthy Mothers build a Healthy Nation which helps us attain our goal, “Sahi Poshan – Desh Roshan”.
The columnist is Executive Director, The Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security. VIews expressed are the author’s own.