Tuesday , 18 June 2019
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Mothers Can Reduce Children’s Anaemia

GOA has registered more than 10 per cent increase in anaemia cases among children in the age group of 6-59 months in the past decade. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2005-06 had recorded 38.2 per cent of the children in the 6-59 months age group as anaemic, whereas NFHS 2015-16 put that figure at 48.3 per cent. Anaemia mainly results from iron deficiency, though other factors could be deficiency of vitamin A, vitamin B12 and incidence of hookworm and malaria infection. Medical research suggests that children of anaemic mothers are found to be anaemic. NFHS 2015-16 found 31.3 per cent of women in the age group of 15-49 years anaemic. Low iron content of breast milk is one of the major factors for iron deficiency in children. The prevalence of anaemia among women and low iron content in breast milk in Goa sounds very ironic, considering that the average family income in the state is high.
Of course, Goa is not alone. India is the highest contributor to child anaemia among the developing countries. Globally 1.62 billion people are anaemic, while among the preschool children the prevalence of anaemia is 47.4%. In India, about 89 million children are anaemic. According to NFHS 2005-06, as much as 70% of the children in the age group of 6-59 months were anaemic, including 3% severely anaemic, 40% moderately anaemic and 26% mildly anaemic. Anaemia is the most predominant factor for morbidity and child mortality. The prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia is the highest among preschool children (age group 6-59 months) because the body grows rapidly and requires high-iron-rich and nutritious food that may not be fulfilled by their normal diet. Iron deficiency anaemia affects the physical and mental development of the human body. According to a research study, iron deficiency reduces the learning capacity of the children aged below five years, decreases attentiveness, and causes low intelligence. Thus, looked in the broader sense, anaemia leads to decrease of the actual economic productivity of human resources and ultimately impacts development of the country. Clearly, anaemia among preschool and school children is not only a serious public health problem in Goa but also a constraint on economic development of the state.
Goa is implementing the national programme for reducing the incidence of iron deficiency among children. Under the national programme, an estimated 22,464 students are expected to be covered in Goa this year with around Rs 40 lakh assigned for the project by the health department. The state government started a weekly iron and folic acid supplementation programme in 2013 to administer one iron tablet every Monday to government school students from Std VI to XII. The government has decided to extend this programme to government-aided high schools and higher secondary schools from this academic year.
However, the experience in other states suggests that government programme has failed to control anaemia among preschool children. This is because there is no monitoring and evaluation of the programme. As the mother plays a central role in reducing the prevalence of anaemia among children, a continuous and vigorous health and nutrition education programme for making mothers conscious of providing iron-rich foods to their children should be made an integral part of the anaemia control programme. The level of women’s awareness determines their own and their children’s health status. Preventive health care is more effective in reducing child morbidity curative health care. Preschool children are anaemic because of poor maternal iron stores during pregnancy and lactation and delayed initiation of complementary foods. In certain cases longer duration of exclusive or predominant breast-feeding caused increased risk for iron deficiency in children. Open defecation also exposes children to risk from hookworm infestation and consequent anaemia, requiring their periodic de-worming.
The state government needs therefore to make multiple interventions. Merely administration of iron tablets and de-worming is not going to help. The very fact of 10 per cent rise in anaemia in children of age group 6-59 months in the past decade shows that the government does not have a grip on the problem. It has to design specific strategies to reduce anaemia. The government must get all the concerned departments to coordinate for reducing the prevalence of anaemia. Above all, the focus should be on the health and nutrition education to mothers. There is education, exposure to mass media and income in the average Goan family. Once the women’s level of awareness rises, they might not just depend on government programme but also take steps using their own means and knowledge to reduce anaemia among themselves and among their children. The very fact that anaemia among women in the age group of 15-49 years has fallen from 38 to 31 per cent in the state points to the crucial role women can play in controlling anaemia.

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