With an aim to reduce maternal and infant mortalities and ensure overall maternal health, the Madhya Pradesh (MP) government has decided to provide one free meal every day to pregnant women in selected districts from August 15.
The scheme of the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD) would be known as 'Full Meal Scheme'.
According to 2013 special bulletin of the Registrar General of India (RGI), MP, recording about 18 to 19 lakh pregnancies every year, has a very high maternal mortality ratio (MMR) at 221 per lakh live births, which is amongst one of the highest in the country. MMR includes deaths of women during childbirth or due to related complications.
The state also has the highest infant mortality rate (IMR) at 54 per thousand live births. IMR is the number of children dying before their first birthday.
Experts attribute poor nutritional status of the mothers-to-be as one of the main reasons for these high mortality figures. The government aims to address this issue through the new scheme.
"In the beginning, this scheme would be introduced in five districts including Satna, Umaria, Dindori, Alirajpur and Barwani, where nutritional level is low in general," said JN Kansotia, principal secretary of DWCD.
Expecting mothers would get complete meals along with anganwadi, primary and middle school kids right from the day her pregnancy is confirmed, till the time of child birth.
The meal given to the women would also be served from common kitchens under Sanjha Chulha scheme operated through self-help groups under the Panchayat and rural development departments.
At present, the pregnant and lactating women get Take Home Ration (THR) as nutritious supplement from the anganwadi centres. This THR includes packets of ready-to-eat laddoo, halwa and khichree (rice-lentil porridge) mix. Only once a week on Tuesday, they are served hot cooked meal at the centre.
Right to food activist, Sachin Jain, welcomed the proposed move of the government, saying that it would certainly be beneficial in addressing the issues of nutrition deficiency and Anaemia amongst expecting mothers.
"These are amongst the main causes of high maternal morality and poor child and mother health. So it would be a good initiative, especially in the food deficient areas and communities," Jain said.
He, however, added that the government should take care to ensure quality and quantity check and should perhaps focus more on community-based management of the meal distribution system, rather than the institutionalised model at present.