Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday launched a new initiative of universal child health screening for birth defects and deficiencies that can lead to disabilities, as well as early intervention services that will cover an estimated 27 crore children.
Acknowledging the challenges of malnutrition among children, Gandhi expressed confidence that the Food Security Act that the UPA government proposed to bring soon will help tackle the problem.
"UPA government is going to bring a very important Food Security Act. I think this historic step will help in tackling the problem of malnutrition among children," Gandhi said.
Speaking at the launch function, she said, "I am happy that this project is being launched from here and I congratulate all of you".
"Children are the future of the country. Their well-being is our concern. That is why the Congress-led government has started such programmes," she said, adding "It has been an endeavour of our government that there should be no shortage of funds for public health schemes."
Listing out various schemes launched by the UPA government for improving health and well being of children, she lamented that 40% of children still suffered from malnutrition, which is a matter of great concern.
"Though we have many achievements on one hand, we also have many challenges before us," she said expressing concern over the high child mortality rate in the country.
She said the UPA government laid special emphasis on giving greater attention to the most backward and needy parts of the country and it also ensured there is no shortfall in funds for social welfare and human resource development.
Gandhi said the government has opened as many 270 nursing schools in backward and remote areas of the country and hoped the SC/ST women will undergo training in them and join the noble profession.
Listing out the achievement of polio eradication from the country, she said, "Some time back over two lakh children fell victims to polio. Now India is polio-free. I feel it is a very big achievement, whose beginning was made by Rajivji."
She also listed out the Right to Education Act and the mid-day meal scheme aimed at helping children attain free education and feed them properly while in school.
Gandhi said the government had distributed Rs. 90,000 crores to states under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in the last seven years for the welfare of the masses in the rural and remote areas of the country.
The current programme is also being launched under the NRHM scheme of Union ministry of health and family welfare.
The initiative is aimed at improving overall quality of life of children through early detection of birth defects, diseases and deficiencies, which are among key factors for child mortality and out of pocket expenditure for poor families, as well as development delays including disability.
Under the programme, a set of 30 common conditions have been identified for screening and further management of child health.
These services are built on the existing school health services and will be provided through dedicated mobile health teams placed in every block who will comprise of four health personnel including two AYUSH doctors, an ANM and a pharmacist.
The teams will carry out screening of all the children in the age group 0–6 years enrolled at Anganwadi centres at least twice a year besides screening of all children enrolled in Government and Government aided schools.
Birth defects account for 9.6% of all new-born deaths and 4% of under five mortality.
According to the 2006 March of Dimes Global Report on Birth Defects, out of every 100 babies born in this country every year, 6 to 7 have a birth defect. In Indian context, this would translate to 17 lakhs birth defects annually.
Development delays affect at least 10% children and if not intercepted timely may lead to permanent disabilities including cognitive, hearing or vision.