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COVID-19 has affected the momentum of POSHAN Abhiyaan: Expert  

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UP government is pumping Rs 1200 crore to scale up the food supply chain, combat the nutrition crisis and to ensure nobody sleeps hungry in the state

COVID-19 has hardly left anyone unaffected. Recently, UNICEF warned that an additional 6,000 children could die daily from preventable causes over the next six months as the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened the health systems, disrupting routine services.

In the Rashtriya Poshan Maah, to discuss nutrition security and National Nutrition Programme; the Immunity Conundrum: Lesson learnt, and Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy: Linking ancient wisdom to modern science, HEAL Foundation in association with ICCIDD, and name partner Coalition Food & Nutrition Security organised ‘India Immunity e-Summit 2020: Science of Balancing Food & Nutrition in Maintaining Optimal Immunity’ followed by ‘Immunity Champions of India Awards’ on September 17. Express Healthcare was the media partner for the e Summit.

During COVID-19, the Prime Minister’s overarching scheme for Holistic Nutrition or POSHAN Abhiyaan or National Nutrition Mission, a flagship programme to improve nutritional outcomes for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers have been affected badly. This is a multi-ministerial convergence mission with a vision to address malnutrition in a targeted approach.

On being asked on the current state of malnutrition amongst the children in India due to COVID-19 and the probable measure to overcome this menace, Arjan De Wagt, chief of nutrition, UNICEF, India, while addressing India Immunity e-Summit 2020 said, “As far as malnutrition in India is concerned, Lancet study last year estimated that two-thirds of the 1.04 million deaths in children under five years in India is still attributable to malnutrition. And during COVID-19, it may increase by 10-20 per cent. But the government is doing its bit bountifully. We have got good leadership of the PM because leadership is a game-changer.”

How COVID-19 induced a nutrition crisis

“COVID-19 has affected the momentum of POSHAN Abhiyan, and induced the nutrition crisis. However, in the ongoing Poshan Maah, we see the momentum is getting back, and I hope to see POSHAN Abhiyan 1.2. The government needs to maintain the tempo and get back on track with maximum Coverage, Continuity, Intensity and Quality (CCIQ) to fight back COVID-19. And In my opinion, there should be 12 Poshan Maah and 52 Breastfeeding Weeks in a year rather than one. Parents play the biggest role in feeding the children, so they should be educated about the importance of nutrition in boosting immunity”, added Wagt.

Elaborating on the essence and the need to conduct such discourse on nutrition and immunity, Bishow Parajuli, representative & country director, World Food Programme (WFP)  India, while addressing the e-Summit said, “During the COVID-19 time, some Indian states have faced crisis but at the same time the role of some states have been instrumental in tackling the COVID-19 situation such as Kerala, Orissa and UP have done a fantastic job, indeed. Especially, the UP state has been seen quite proactive in ensuring that the people receive foods even without ration cards. The CM of UP is coming forward and making sure that no one sleep hungry. To scale up the food supply chain and to combat the food crisis, the UP Govt. is pumping Rs 1200 crore.”

“Although, hunger and malnutrition are rising due to COVID-19, yet civil societies, self-help groups are coming forward to rescue the people encountered with hunger. POSHAN Abhiyan in India is fantastic, though it is affected a bit due to COVID. During mass migration, we realised hidden hunger, so we need to customise the nutrition module”, added Parajuli.

Nutrition key to life

Addressing the e-Summit, Tarun Vij, country director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) said, “Still, 700 thousand children are stunted. In the COVID-19 pandemic, already vulnerable groups have been affected the most as the food supply chain got disturbed. Considering the malnutrition and stunting in India galore, all development partners should work towards food fortification. This will help make out the nutritional balance because nutrition is the key to life and if one is nutritionally deficient, one is going to die.”

Deliberating on the importance of nutrition and its relevance with optimising immunity, Dr Swadeep Srivastava, Founder HEAL Foundation, said, “Malnutrition has always been a major problem in India with over 38 per cent of Indian children under five being stunted and over 50 per cent of women of reproductive age are anaemic. And this momentum has increased considerably during COVID-19. This pandemic has made us learn the importance of food and nutrition and its pivotal role in maintaining optimal immunity. We need to balance our nutrition because India faces the double burden of undernutrition and obesity: the cases of overweight adults are now almost equal to the number of underweight adults. Nothing but balanced nutrition can only help us maintain the desired level of immunity.”

“The world at large is passing through the abject nutritional crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in debilitating of immunity. It is very important to make the people aware of the close relationship between nutrition and immunity. In such a scenario, organising ‘India Immunity e-Summit 2020 is indeed a much needed and a welcome step forward,” commented Dr C S Pandav, former HoD, community medicine, AIIMS, and director- South Asia Region, International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD).

How nutrition can fuel immunity

While moderating the second session at the e-Summit, on the immunity conundrum and lessons learnt, Manjari Chandra, consultant- nutrition, Max Multi-Specialty Centre, elaborated on how nutrition can fuel immunity and said, “The role of nutrition in fuelling immunity is immense. In the last six months during the pandemic, even, the high dose of Vitamin C, which is a potent anti-oxidant has been used widely during the pandemic across the world and turned out efficacious in destroying the pathogens. The role of nutrition in fuelling immunity has been increased substantially — the broad lesson we have learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has also resulted in the unprecedented rise of the nutraceutical sector worldwide by 228 per cent in the last six months.”

Throwing light on the relevance of Ayurveda in the times of COVID-19 in the third session of the e-Summit, Dr Saurabh Sharma, medical superintendent & Ayurveda specialist, Maharishi Ayurveda Hospital, said, “This is a sort of ‘blessing in disguise’ because the pandemic has helped us brought back to nature and this is what Ayurveda lays emphasis on to lead a natural life. There has been plenty of proven research nationally and internationally on the anti-oxidant and immunity-boosting properties of Ayurveda herbs. Ayurveda talks about prevention is better than cure and balancing with nature, which is also mentioned in Charak Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. Hence, the relevance of Ayurveda has increased noticeably in COVID-19 pandemic scenario.”

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