Saksham Anganwadi: An important step towards a healthier future for India

Published on Sep 15, 2022 11:28 AM IST

The article has been authored by Dr Rajan Sankar, CEO, P4i and a nutrition expert.

The new generation Anganwadis are likely to drive enormous transformations in early childhood care and development, not only from a nutrition viewpoint, but in contributing to the overall mental and physical health of children.
The new generation Anganwadis are likely to drive enormous transformations in early childhood care and development, not only from a nutrition viewpoint, but in contributing to the overall mental and physical health of children.
ByHindustan Times

Early years of childhood provide a unique opportunity to give children the best start to life, especially the first 1,000 days (from conception to 24 months), in which the foundation for optimum health, growth and brain development across the lifespan can be established. Hence, investing in these early years is a practical and effective strategy towards building human capital that will eventually lead to growing and diversifying the economy. India had adopted the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme in 1975, a flagship early childhood care and development programme, to address malnutrition among children and women of reproductive age. It had formed the backbone of early childhood development. Through a village-level network of Anganwadi Centres (AWCs), ICDS has provided health and nutrition security to millions of children. Currently, there are more than 13 lakh AWCs operational in the country.

We have come a long way since then and made good progress on different nutrition indicators. However, there is still a lot of miles to be covered before we reach our goals. According to the latest National Family Health Survey 2019-20 (NFHS-5), 35% of children under-5 years are stunted, while 19% are wasted. Our country still carries the highest burden of anaemia around the world. In recent years, the government has accorded high priority to the issue of malnutrition and continues to implement targeted interventions, such as the Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nourishment (Poshan) Abhiyaan. To further accelerate improvement, India recently launched an Integrated Nutrition Support Programme comprising Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0. The programme aims to achieve improved nutrition outcomes by promoting greater transparency and accountability of governance and address the challenges of malnutrition among children, adolescent girls, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Let’s take a closer look at Saksham Anganwadi. Under this scheme, in the first phase, two lakh AWCs, will receive 40,000 each to make requisite upgrades. These will include better infrastructure, including smart learning aids, audio-and-video tools, and interactive toys to strengthen children’s skills and abilities. Water purifiers and devices such as rain-water harvesters will be installed to optimise sanitation and hygiene, while also ensuring sustainability. There are plans to set up Poshan Vatikas at or near these centres and transform these as a source for nutrient-rich foods. This will surely help bridge gaps in achieving dietary diversity. The new generation Anganwadis are likely to drive enormous transformations in early childhood care and development, not only from a nutrition viewpoint, but in contributing to the overall mental and physical health of children.

By design, the scheme is to address various gaps and shortcomings in the ongoing nutrition programme and create a convergent system to develop and promote practices that nurture health, wellness and immunity for all. We have seen that with states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, which collaborated with partner organisations to overhaul AWCs and improve the standards of these centres. In most of these refurbished centres, focus was to train Anganwadi workers, which also led to creating a motivating work environment for them. Healthy and cheerful atmosphere provided to mothers and children, with access to various learning tools, led to improved attendance of pregnant women, lactating mothers and enrolment of children below six years of age. I firmly believe that the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lies at the forefront of this programme design. Specifically, SDG 2 that aims to achieve zero hunger, food security and improved nutrition for all, and also SDG 4 on equitable, quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

However, implementing programmes like this pan-India will need more understanding and learnings from the past and previous interventions. Diverse geographical, cultural, social, and other related factors, across states, strongly reflect a need to develop and guide interventions in coherence with the unique circumstances of each state, rather than continuing with a single uniform approach. Adaptability is key. Additionally, execution and implementation of programmes have been largely affected by absence of effective participation of beneficiaries and local stakeholders, resulting in low community ownership in Anganwadi activities. It is imperative to intensify engagement at the community level, by adopting a Jan Andolan strategy as outlined in Poshan Abhiyaan, for more acceptability to the programme. Lastly, monitoring and evaluation of the programme and addressing any systemic and on ground challenges is critical for the success of this effort.

The launch of Saksham Anganwadi is a testament of the government’s commitment to its children and nursing mothers to break the vicious cycle of malnutrition. The programme will address various gaps and shortcomings in the ongoing nutrition programme and create a convergent system to develop and promote practices that nurture health, wellness and immunity for all. Since the scheme models quality, transparency, and efficiency in service delivery, this 360-degree approach will help form the bedrock of the country’s move toward a healthier, happier and more productive future.

The article has been authored by Dr Rajan Sankar, CEO, P4i and a nutrition expert.

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