Under-Nutrition In India: What Vitamin Angels Is Doing To Overcome The Challenges
Currently, under Mission Poshan 2.0 the organization is providing technical assistance to state governments in improving their supply-chains, and hence procurement, access and administration of Vitamin A and Deworming doses to under-5 children.
- Under-nutrition persists as a key public health challenge for us in India. What is the approach Vitamin Angels has been taking to address this?
Yes, under nutrition is certainly a big public health challenge, resulting in other economic, social and environmental challenges for India. It has been well-established that undernourished children have low cognitive and physical ability and hence under-perform in education and at work, causing long term economic impact to the households. Not to mention that the disasters like COVID19 pandemic have further disrupted the system, worsened the food security and further aggravated the pain and suffering.
Our approach at Vitamin Angels is multiple fold.
-a. We focus only on evidence-based nutrition interventions that have been scientifically proven to improve the nutritional health of under-5 children and pregnant / lactating women.
-b. We provide support to the governments’ (both union and state) in their efforts on alleviating childhood morbidity and mortality. Currently, under Mission Poshan 2.0 we are providing technical assistance to state governments in improving their supply-chains, and hence procurement, access and administration of Vitamin A and Deworming doses to under-5 children.
-c. We focus on encouraging and developing grassroots organisations to provide last-mile support reaching the most underserved populations.
-d. Historically, businesses have reached difficult areas, and succeeded in changing behaviour better than anyone else. Besides, a healthier population means more consumers, and more demand for products and services. Therefore, we recognise the massive role that private sector businesses play in this collaboration and firmly believe that a problem like under-nutrition cannot be solved without active collaboration between the Government, non-profits and businesses.
So far, Vitamin Angels has reached over 22 million women and children across India in partnership with 11 state governments and 1800 grassroots partners.
2. I have been given to understand that a lot of the work you do is context-specific. Being a global organisation, how do you narrow down the focus of interventions in Indian geographies?
One cannot undermine the local context, culture, challengers and choices people make. Vitamin Angels is global by size and shape, but necessarily local by interventions.
We are registered in India as an Indian entity. Our work is delivered by a 100%-Indian team of qualified doctors, researchers, managers and leaders. On the one hand, working in 60+ countries for the last 25 years gives Vitamin Angels a solid starting point (knowledge, skill and credibility), on the other it has made us naturally empathetic and sensitive to country-level differences and nuances. Most importantly, state governments and our grassroots program partners are an essential link in our delivery - they bring in diverse knowledge and capacity to reach the under-served population.
As an example, over the last few weeks, Vitamin Angels travelled with respective health-missions of states of Tripura and Nagaland reaching the remotest districts to ensure Vitamin A dosing to under-5 children.
3. What to you are India’s key challenges right now, when it comes to nutrition for children and what the major solutions you are pushing for?
India’s key challenge is to build ‘equitable’ access to nutrition to children under 5yrs of age. Under-nutrition is the primary cause of death of 2 out of 3 children under the age of 5. But the reality is more complex than a problem-statement!
First of all, India is yet to secure food-for-all, to overcome Severe Acute Malnutrition. Poverty and absence of livelihoods directly adds to the ability to secure food for household. According to the recent report by Azim Premji University, over 230 million Indians were pushed in to poverty in the first year of COVID19 pandemic. Its impact on under-nutrition per-se is yet to be ascertained.
So, the challenges can be simply categorised as ‘immediate’ and ‘long-term’. Immediate challenge is to arrest morbidity and mortality because of under-nutrition, and ensure continued supply of evidence-based nutrition interventions (EBNI) from pregnancy onwards, through child-birth and till the child is 5yrs old. Longer term challenge is obviously to strengthen the public health system of EBNIs on one hand, and on the other make nutrition a priority for every household. As I mentioned, partnerships are important to deal with the nature of this problem. The only way to multiply solutions is to ‘collaborate’.
There is no good reason for any young child not to receive the nutrition in the first few days of their lives, which directly impacts brain, eyesight and physical development. It does not matter what geography, social, cultural or economic background they come from. Our success, collectively, will depend upon how effectively we reach every single child before it is too late.
Sunish Jauhari,President- India, Vitamin Angels
Sunish has led various initiatives and organizations in the areas of business consulting, Social Entrepreneurship, Public Safety, and Youth Development in the last two decades. Early on in his career, Sunish worked with the UK Government providing cross-border business consulting services to UK and Indian SMEs. He successfully led initiatives to set up Global Value Chains, ideating and developing concepts for large-scale collaborations creating bigger better value for innovative organizations.
Sunish developed interest in social development out of deep personal experiences in early 2000s, co-creating social initiatives alongside his day-job. He made a full-time shift to the social impact sector in 2011, joining Ashoka, world’s largest organization of social entrepreneurs working in the areas of affordable housing and building the field of social entrepreneurship. He led Ashoka India operations before joining Vitamin Angels in Sept 2020.
Sunish serves as an Advisor on a few non-profit boards, is a co-lead at Catalyst2030 an initiative to accelerate achievement of SDGs, and mentors an organization in the area of road safety, which he had set up in 2013.
Sunish currently leads Vitamin Angels in India.