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Invest in the youngest child Mr Finance Minister!

Feb 18, 2015

Dr Arun Gupta, Regional Coordinator, International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Asia Pacific, said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of setting up 100 smart cities will only succeed if the government invests in children.

Arun Gupta

New Delhi: When President Obama came to India, we signed up several agreements including the one to set up 100 smart cities.

Smart cities will be smarter only if its children are smarter!

That’s the real point Mr Finance Minister! You have the budget in your hand. Invest in the youngest child to give head start. That would be the potential to make every child smarter, and grow into a brighter adult.

At the moment, half of India is undernourished, which is a shame and it can be changed if policy and programme directions are changed with budgets.  In your last Budget speech, you had promised to halt the deteriorating malnutrition situation in India, through a national programme!

Look at Thailand, they made a successful dent in their child malnutrition by increasing the density of workers, one worker per ten households to support their population along with well thought of strategies of linking health, food and nutrition and universal coverage.

You might have known about the emerging economy, Brazil, and the success it made in nutrition through universal food and health care programmes. They invested and got the results. They also set up Nutrition councils by law to coordinate nutrition agenda,  which shows determination behind their success.

Last month, our Prime Minister launched ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ movement in Panipat. On the eve of this launch, “Navdisha -Our Commitment to a ‘Kuposhan Mukt Bharat’ was launched that committed among several things “….by preventing and reducing under nutrition in children under 3 years by one third in the next 5 years in the communities, villages urban areas states and UTs…..”.

Few of the interventions that are committed, include infant and young child feeding by enabling peer family and community support to mothers for promoting optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding for every infant especially early and exclusive for the first six months of life; malnutrition free panchayat by adopting village/panchayats/blocks/districts and enabling them to become malnutrition free in the next five years etc.

Mr Finance Minister, We keep on making promises.  When it comes to funding we hardly invest. In these lines and to complete the unfinished agenda, immediate task for you could be allocate funding for the pregnant women and lactating mothers who are entitled to a maternity benefit of at least Rs 6,000 for six months under the National food Security Act.

This has been pending for quite some time. Secondly, India has a law since 1992, hardly implemented, the Infant Milk Substitutes Feeding Bottles, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 1992, and Amendment Act 2003.You could allocate dedicated financial resources for every district and State to do so for its effective implementation.

Thirdly, budget and incentives could be announced for establishing breastfeeding rooms, crèches, and maternity leave for six months in support of breastfeeding at work place. All that could be done through revision of law. Allocation of specific funding for protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding and infant feeding may sound out of place but would set in motion a process to halt deteriorating malnutrition situation and fulfill our commitments more realistically.

Sub optimal feeding practices contribute to common childhood diseases and malnutrition. It negatively impacts health and brain development. Positive change in feeding practices during first two years can kick start a change in health and development of our nation. It is most basic and fundamental as the brain almost entirely develops during first two years.

Nations budgets are perfect place to make its people smart before thinking of concrete structures! We hope you will Act !!

Dr Arun Gupta is a former Member, Prime Minister's Council on India's Nutrition Challenges and Regional Coordinator, International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), Asia Pacific.

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