While Anemia has returned with a bang after eight years among state women, stunted growth among children is on the fast track of disappearance. If anemic women are on the rise both in the villages, urban life and even in the cities, stunted growth among children has dropped by eight percent in eight years. Anemic children are also on the decline.
Incidentally while the state government is taking credits for improving the nutrition and health of children, it is in an awkward position over the one-per cent increase in anemia among women. This is because two state departments are consistently engaged in distribution of iron and folic acid tablets to women. While the state health department distributes IFA tablets (Iron Folic Acid) tablets to women of reproductive age group, the social welfare department distributes cooked meal ( a concoction of rice, dal, iron, folic acid and Vitamin A ) to pregnant women (six months before and after delivery).
The National Family Health Survey Report (2005-2006) has pointed out that anemia has returned to West Bengal, especially among women of 15 to 49 years, with a one-percent increase over the last eight years.
The report says that anemic cases have increased from 62.7% in 1998-99 to 63.8% in 2005-6. Whereas, anemia has grown by 6% among pregnant women over these years.
The increase in percentage of anemic women, however small that percentage is, has disturbed the chief minister. The reason is obvious: the state health department runs a public health anemia control programme, where each woman (between 15 to 49 years) is distributed 100 IFA tablets every year. As per NHFS report, while 50% women (mothers) lift tablets for 90 days, only 24% consume tablets. Statistics say that benefits of anemia control programme is reaching down to only one-fourth of the target group.
The social welfare department has identified some of the reasons behind the reluctance to take iron tablets. The most absurd and dangerous notion being pregnant women fear that intake of iron would be responsible for the dark pigmentation of their babies. The change in the stool colour is another factor why women skip iron tablets.
Moreover, the department has also zeroed in on change in food habits and changes in utensils as factors partially responsible for iron deficiency in daily food intake. Lohar kadai has been replaced with non-stick fry-pans and rice-bran (chida, khoi) in diets has vanished for double-milled rice. Moreover, as against the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 125 gms, on an average only 62 gms is consumed.
However, the positive picture is anemia among children has decreased by 9% and so has stunted growth. The reason of stunted growth is deficiency in protein and energy intake. However, the social welfare department has taken care of that by distributing cooked food (rice, dal with iron, folic acid, Vitamin A mixture) for children from one to six years. The food is given everyday, except on Sundays.