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India launches scheme to provide iron tablets to 13 cr girls

Jul 18, 2013

Iron Deficiency Anaemia is one of the most widespread nutritional deficiency disorder in India, which affects around 58 per cent of the pregnant women.

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In a big leap towards improvement of women health in the country, the Indian government on Wednesday launched its ambitious national anaemia prevention programme for distributing free Iron and folic acid tablets (IFA tablets) to girls at the government and aided schools and the Anganwadi centres.

The National Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) programme launched by India’s Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is a the government’s initiative to protect around provide 13 crore adolescent girls in the age group of 10 to 19 years with iron tablets to help keep iron deficiency and anaemia at bay.

Iron Deficiency Anaemia is one of the most widespread nutritional deficiency disorder in the subcontinent, which affects around 58 per cent of the pregnant women, 50 per cent of the women in the reproductive age, 56 per cent of the adolescent girls and 70 per cent of the children under five years of age.

The programme will supervise the intake of IFA tablets on a fixed day every week and also aims to inform adolescent girls about the required dietary practices for increasing iron intake. The adolescent girls will also be given six- monthly dose of deworming tablets.

Arun Gupta, Member, Prime Minister's Council on India's Nutrition Challenges and Regional Coordinator, International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Asia Pacific, said that iron and protein makes haemoglobin but iron alone is not useful. Gupta stressed that the programme of distributing IFA tablets would be successful if the girls were well informed about the proper diet.

“Girls need to be educated about the right kind of daily diet to maximise the benefit of iron tablets. The Government should also come out with an advisory on the kinds of foods to be avoided at the time of consumption of iron,” Gupta added.

Gupta also questioned the emphasis of the programme on supply of iron tablets and advocated for a wholesome approach to tackle the complex issue of women’s health. “Health workers need to realise this in a more holistic manner. Reaching out to all the girls would be a challenge. There is also a need to motivate the health-workers and enhance their understanding and technical knowledge about the WIFS programme which should be lined with the whole health system,” he said.

Dr Meera Shiva, an expert on pharmaceutical drugs, said that it would be much better if the girls got nutritive food which had all minerals instead of just iron and folic acid tablets. “Why are we not giving priority to nutritive food? People are buying tonics from the market to supplement their diets but they do not contain enough minerals to fulfill the therapeutic dose of nutrients,” she said.

Shiva lamented that skyrocketing food prices are keeping nutritious food away from the maximum number of children and just the distribution of iron and folic acid is not going to solve the problem. “There is a need to revisit the tradition of having diverse foods. Children need all kinds of vitamins, proteins and minerals for a healthy growth. If we continue to ignore the importance of healthy diet and gorge on junk food, ten years from now, India will have more children with diabetes,” Shiva explained.

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