Elected representatives must drive change to combat malnutrition - Hindustan Times
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Elected representatives must drive change to combat malnutrition

ByHindustan Times
Mar 28, 2023 03:17 PM IST

The article has been authored by Gaurav Gogoi, senior Member of Parliament.

India continues to face a significant burden of malnutrition affecting millions of people across the country. Recent reports and statistics highlight a concern with regard to nutritional status and anemia among the population, a majority of whom are women and children. According to the recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5, 2019-20), 38.4% of children (under 5 years of age) are stunted, and 67.1% and 57.2% women (15-49 years) are anaemic. This is a grim reminder of how we have a long way to go towards ensuring nutrition security for all.

Medical Concept: Black Chalkboard with Malnutrition. Medical Concept: Malnutrition Handwritten on Black Chalkboard. Top View of Blue Stethoscope on Chalkboard. 3D Rendering. (tashatuvango - Fotolia) PREMIUM
Medical Concept: Black Chalkboard with Malnutrition. Medical Concept: Malnutrition Handwritten on Black Chalkboard. Top View of Blue Stethoscope on Chalkboard. 3D Rendering. (tashatuvango - Fotolia)

While nutrition is a priority in the national agenda, to achieve improved outcomes, it is imperative that all stakeholders take accountability and contribute towards combating malnutrition. Elected representatives such as myself are uniquely positioned to work towards this end and place food and nutrition security as front and center in the public discourse. They can leverage their powers as representatives of the people to voice the needs and concerns of the most vulnerable. This was also acknowledged by World Health Organization (WHO) at the recent World Health Summit, where the global body underlined the role of parliamentarians in promoting and protecting health by playing a key role in ensuring accountability at all levels.

As an elected representative, monitoring nutrition and related programmes in respective constituencies/ districts can be a valuable step to identify and address issues pertaining to food and nutrition security. One of the important ways to ensure implementation of policies and programmes at scale is to create a network of leaders from the community and panchayati raj institutions, who can closely monitor progress, review programmatic challenges, and create a feedback loop by relaying the learnings and challenges from the ground to relevant state and national authorities.

Engaging with small scale farmers, and other food producers is another important aspect to understand the challenges and opportunities of local food systems, and how they can be supported. We need to work with civil society organisations that support local communities in villages to create a productive and self-reliant society. By engaging with local organisations, such as food banks and community gardens, a better understanding of the existing resources and support mechanisms to address nutrition insecurity could be gained. Such measures will also help identify gaps in service delivery and areas where additional resources are needed.

More than ever, there’s a need for greater emphasis on creating a stronger and sustained political commitment towards the wellbeing of our children. One such step could be regular visits to schools, interactions with parents and educators, who can provide valuable insights to elected representatives on the state of malnutrition among child nutrition.

Routine meetings with concerned officials would be instrumental in understanding gaps and challenges of specific schemes/initiatives, important to ensure benefits of those reach the intended beneficiaries. Elected representatives can help ensure a robust monitoring and evaluation mechanism in place. For instance, the District Development Coordination and Monitoring Committees (DISHAs) are excellent platforms that bring together all the elected representatives including local governments (panchayati raj institutions/municipal bodies) to oversee development at the district level. This ensures a sense of ownership among the representatives, which also act as a crucial interface between the government and the citizenry. Elected leaders can make use of various available information tools such as interactive dashboards and identify a checklist of nutrition indicators to understand gaps in the nutrition service delivery. Such measures will help monitor and better track nutrition services, collaborate with government departments to generate convergence and ensure nutrition and related areas features regularly on the agendas of village leaders at the local level.

There are several inspiring stories globally of successfully combating hunger and malnutrition with good governance. As national leaders, we must be open to learning from such successful examples from across the world to emulate and adopt healthy policy practices in our own contexts.

The fight against malnutrition is a long one and requires sustained efforts. However, the stakes are too high for inaction. This calls for a multifaceted approach in the form of a comprehensive and coordinated strategy across all stakeholders. It is, therefore, crucial for the government to work with multiple partners, the private sector, civil society organisations, and community, to develop and implement focused strategies and effective solutions. As a society, we must come together to collectively fight this malaise of malnutrition— a fight that ought to be led by elected leaders.

The article has been authored by Gaurav Gogoi, senior Member of Parliament.

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