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Commitment to Action: Gujarat Shows The Way

Good governance played a key role in transforming lives and addressing malnutrition in Gujarat during this pandemic season.

Manisha Chandra | Dec 06, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed serious risks to nutritional status of millions of people worldwide, including children. The latest analysis by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the Lancet Global Health Journal, estimates that up to 300,000 children could die in India alone owing to the pandemic.

In the current crisis, where malnutrition can affect the course of the pandemic, it is highly pertinent that the issue of nutrition is addressed with multi-pronged and multisectoral actions. With the launch of POSHAN Abhiyaan, or National Nutrition Mission, in March 2018, India’s nutrition journey has witnessed successes in strengthening nutrition programming and improving nutrition for the most vulnerable groups of people. To ensure that these achievements are not derailed by the current Covid-19 pandemic, a diverse group of nutrition stakeholders, working on various areas of technical and implementation support, research and advocacy, have pledged their renewed Commitment to Action (CTA) for nutrition, building on agenda setting and consensus building that was done in 2008 and 2014.

The government of Gujarat has been a front runner in the implementation of POSHAN Abhiyaan and improving nutritional outcomes in the state. COVID19 has re-emphasised the stark inequalities between the privileged and the marginalised communities. The world faced the biggest lockdown that affected livelihoods. The pandemic has obstructed and delayed essential services such as health, nutrition and education and the last mile delivery to people has suffered most due to the situation.

Gujarat has been quick and efficient in adapting innovative ways to combat interruptions in service delivery caused by COVID-19 pandemic. The state hasintroduced new scalable, and practical ideas for safe delivery of essential services.

An important and highly effectivestate led initiative, PuShTI -Innovation through technology, is an integrated supply-chain management system for procurement and supply of THR (Take Home Ration) under the Supplementary Nutrition Programme. It is a web and mobile based applicationwith multiple user-friendly features. It is easily accessible to field levelfunctionaries and has auto-enabled live tracking of THR delivery. PuShTI is a time and resource efficient, easy to use tool for all the partners and stakeholders, making it instrumental in transforming the supply chain managementin Gujarat. PuSHTI brings together all the stakeholders of supply-chain on one platform andfunctions as a one stop solution. As a result, it has led to effective coordination between stakeholders,increased accountability and improved quality of services with better monitoring.

The Department of Women and Child Development (WCD), Gujarat has been actively working towards tackling malnutrition in the state. During COVID-19, the government came across a major challenge to continue delivery of essential services without compromising on the quality and health norms.

Anganwadi Centres had shut down on 16th of March 2020 due to nationwide lockdown. To ensure the health and safety of beneficiaries and service providers, ICDS, WCD Department, Gujarat, designed, developed and implemented ‘Umbre Anganwadi’ (means Anganwadi at Doorstep) programme using digital platforms to ensure home delivery of services. In lieu of hot cooked meals, ICDS started providing THR for children between 3-6 years in addition to the THRbeing home deliveredto thechildren. This ensured that 18 lakh childrenbetween 6months – 3yrs, 16 lakh children between 3 -6 years, 7 lakh pregnant and lactating women and 13 lakh adolescent girls receive THR and their daily supplementary nutritional needs are met during the pandemic and lockdown.

(PSE) Pre-School Education is one of the essential components of Umbre Anganwadi.Nutrition and PSE related programmes are being broadcastthrough BISAG (Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Applications and Geo informatics) on government’s free to air channel called Vande Gujarat -1 with repeat telecast on Doordarshan.The episodes are also amplifiedon the social media platform of WCD Gujarat including Twitter and Facebook. To ensure wider reach, 40000 parents’ groups on WhatsApp have been formed reaching out to about 3, 00,000 parents. A special edition is being telecast every Tuesday on various aspects of the first 1000 days of life with experts from different domainscovering topics such as care and nutrition during pregnancy and importance of initiating timely complementary feeding. The Department has collaborated with Doordarshan to maximize reach of the programme.

The bottom-up approach and programmes implemented by the Government of Gujarat ensured last mile convergence. Going forward, the state is focusing on the need to improve and the set quality standards for nutrition services.The state has been an exemplary case in handling the global pandemic and has come up with effective solutions without compromising quality and health norms. As the essential services continueto reach the last mile beneficiary even during pandemic, it goes on to show thatif there is a will, the solutions are not far away. The Department is committed to the second pillar of CTA and is ensuring uninterrupted universal and high-quality coverage of selected evidence-informed essential nutrition interventions, with a special focus on children under two years of age, pregnant women and adolescent girls.

(Author is an IAS, Commissioner and Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development, Government of Gujarat)