Maharashtra's Nutrition Mission

Maharashtra's `Nutrition Mission', a programme aiming to curb malnutrition in young children particularly under the age of two, has garnered lavish applause on the international stage for the major gains it has made.
The scheme has reduced chronic malnutrition (stunting) across income groups in children aged under two from 39% in 2005-06 to 23% in 2012. Because of it, severe chronic malnutrition has declined from 15% in 2005-06 to 8% in 2012.
“Unicef has acknowledged the programme as by far the best model across countries and the best in India,“ chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said. Aside from the Unicef report, which was vetted by the England-based Institute of Development Studies, the programme came in for praise from the world's leading medical journal Lancet.The publication mentioned it as a case study on how leadership, governance and coordination can contribute to reducing malnutrition.
State public health minister Suresh Shetty was recently invited by the Harvard School of Medicine to make a presentation on the state government's successful `Nutrition Mission'. The scheme has helped the Maharashtra improve child survival by focusing on management of low birth weight babies and by spreading awareness about the right feeding practices for infants, their hygiene and better maternal care. Chavan said the success is illustrated by the 30% decline in infant mortality rate, which dropped from 36 deaths per 1,000 in 2005 to 25 deaths per 1,000 in 2011.
The Unicef report states, “This (malnutrition decline) is faster than any recent country level trend… The decline is even more remarkable given that the state’s performance in reducing chronic malnutrition between 1992 and 2006 was lower than the all-India average. To put the recent decline in a national context, if India posted a ten percentage point decline in chronic malnutrition over the same period, the number of stunted children aged under five would decline from 60 million to 45 million.” The change has occurred, it adds, not due to rises in budgetary spend but because of systemic changes in tackling malnutrition.
Rajlaxmi Nair, a nutrition specialist with Unicef (which partnered in the mission), said many states are approaching Maharashtra to understand how it improved the nutrition level of its children and mothers. Maharashtra has already achieved its Millennium Development Goal for maternal mortality rate, which now stands at 87 deaths per 1 lakh.
The Unicef report says that access to water and sanitation are still a challenge. “The state’s public expenditure on health is one of the lowest in India: 18th out of 19 states at 0.55% of GSDP… The health environment appears to be the weak link in the nutrition chain.”

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