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Malnutrition in India: The National Nutrition Strategy explained

September 8th, 2017 No comments

In the recent past, there has been a renewed discussion around nutrition in India.  A few months ago, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released the National Health Policy, 2017.[1]  It highlighted the negative impact of malnutrition on the population’s productivity, and its contribution to mortality rates in the country.  In light of the long term effects of malnutrition, across generations, the NITI Aayog released the National Nutrition Strategy this week.  This post presents the current status of malnutrition in India and measures proposed by this Strategy.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition indicates that children are either too short for their age or too thin.[2]  Children whose height is below the average for their age are considered to be stunted.  Similarly, children whose weight is below the average for their age are considered thin for their height or wasted.  Together, the stunted and wasted children are considered to be underweight – indicating a lack of proper nutritional intake and inadequate care post childbirth.

What is the extent of malnutrition in India?

India’s performance on key malnutrition indicators is poor according to national and international studies.  According to UNICEF, India was at the 10th spot among countries with the highest number of underweight children, and at the 17th spot for the highest number of stunted children in the world.[3]

Malnutrition affects chances of survival for children, increases their susceptibility to illness, reduces their ability to learn, and makes them less productive in later life.[4]   It is estimated that malnutrition is a contributing factor in about one-third of all deaths of children under the age of 5.[5]  Figure 1 looks at the key statistics on malnutrition for children in India.

Figure 1: Malnutrition in children under 5 years (2005-06 and 2015-16)

NFHS Survey

Sources: National Family Health Survey 3 & 4; PRS.

Over the decade between 2005 and 2015, there has been an overall reduction in the proportion of underweight children in India, mainly on account of an improvement in stunting.  While the percentage of stunted children under 5 reduced from 48% in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16, there has been a rise in the percentage of children who are wasted from 19.8% to 21% during this period.[6],[7]  A high increase in the incidence of wasting was noted in Punjab, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Sikkim.[8]

The prevalence of underweight children was found to be higher in rural areas (38%) than urban areas (29%). According to WHO, infants weighing less than 2.5 Kg are 20 times more likely to die than heavier babies.2  In India, the national average weight at birth is less than 2.5 Kg for 19% of the children.  The incidence of low birth-weight babies varied across different states, with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh witnessing the highest number of underweight childbirths at 23%.[9]

Further, more than half of India’s children are anaemic (58%), indicating an inadequate amount of haemoglobin in the blood.  This is caused by a nutritional deficiency of iron and other essential minerals, and vitamins in the body.2

Is malnutrition witnessed only among children?

No.  Among adults, 23% of women and 20% of men are considered undernourished in India.  On the other hand, 21% of women and 19% of men are overweight or obese.  The simultaneous occurrence of over nutrition and under-nutrition indicates that adults in India are suffering from a dual burden of malnutrition (abnormal thinness and obesity).  This implies that about 56% of women and 61% of men are at normal weight for their height.

What does the National Nutrition Strategy propose?

Various government initiatives have been launched over the years which seek to improve the nutrition status in the country.  These include the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the National Health Mission, the Janani Suraksha Yojana, the Matritva Sahyog Yojana, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, and the National Food Security Mission, among others.  However, concerns regarding malnutrition have persisted despite improvements over the years.  It is in this context that the National Nutrition Strategy has been released.  Key features of the Strategy include:8

  • The Strategy aims to reduce all forms of malnutrition by 2030, with a focus on the most vulnerable and critical age groups. The Strategy also aims to assist in achieving the targets identified as part of the Sustainable Development Goals related to nutrition and health.
  • The Strategy aims to launch a National Nutrition Mission, similar to the National Health Mission. This is to enable integration of nutrition-related interventions cutting across sectors like women and child development, health, food and public distribution, sanitation, drinking water, and rural development.
  • A decentralised approach will be promoted with greater flexibility and decision making at the state, district and local levels. Further, the Strategy aims to strengthen the ownership of Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies over nutrition initiatives.  This is to enable decentralised planning and local innovation along with accountability for nutrition outcomes.
  • The Strategy proposes to launch interventions with a focus on improving healthcare and nutrition among children. These interventions will include: (i) promotion of breastfeeding for the first six months after birth, (ii) universal access to infant and young child care (including ICDS and crèches), (iii) enhanced care, referrals and management of severely undernourished and sick children, (iv) bi-annual vitamin A supplements for children in the age group of 9 months to 5 years, and (v) micro-nutrient supplements and bi-annual de-worming for children.
  • Measures to improve maternal care and nutrition include: (i) supplementary nutritional support during pregnancy and lactation, (ii) health and nutrition counselling, (iii) adequate consumption of iodised salt and screening of severe anaemia, and (iv) institutional childbirth, lactation management and improved post-natal care.
  • Governance reforms envisaged in the Strategy include: (i) convergence of state and district implementation plans for ICDS, NHM and Swachh Bharat, (ii) focus on the most vulnerable communities in districts with the highest levels of child malnutrition, and (iii) service delivery models based on evidence of impact.

[1] National Health Policy, 2017, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 16, 2017, http://mohfw.nic.in/showfile.php?lid=4275

[2] Nutrition in India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2005-06, http://rchiips.org/nfhs/nutrition_report_for_website_18sep09.pdf

[3] Unstarred Question No. 2759, Lok Sabha, Answered on March 17, 2017, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/11/AU2759.pdf

[4] Helping India Combat Persistently High Rates of Malnutrition, The World Bank, May 13, 2013, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/05/13/helping-india-combat-persistently-high-rates-of-malnutrition

[5] Unstarred Question No. 4902, Lok Sabha, Answered on December 16, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU4902.pdf

[6] National Family Health Survey – 3, 2005-6, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare http://rchiips.org/nfhs/pdf/India.pdf

[7] National Family Health Survey – 4 , 2015-16, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, http://rchiips.org/NFHS/pdf/NFHS4/India.pdf

[8] National Nutrition Strategy, 2017, NITI Aayog, September 2017, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Nutrition_Strategy_Booklet.pdf

[9] Rapid Survey On Children, Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2013-14, http://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/RSOC%20National%20Report%202013-14%20Final.pdf

Shortage of doctors may hit rural healthcare delivery

November 26th, 2012 1 comment

Recently, the Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare submitted its report to the Parliament on the National Commission for Human Resource for Health Bill, 2011.  The objective of the Bill is to “ensure adequate availability of human resources in the health sector in all states”.  It seeks to set up the National Commission for Human Resources for Health (NCHRH), National Board for Health Education (NBHE), and the National Evaluation and Assessment Council (NEAC) in order to determine and regulate standards of health education in the country.  It separates regulation of the education sector from that of professions such as law, medicine and nursing, and establishes professional councils at the national and state levels to regulate the professions.

See here for PRS Bill Summary.

The Standing Committee recommended that this Bill be withdrawn and a revised Bill be introduced in Parliament after consulting stakeholders.  It felt that concerns of the professional councils such as the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India were not adequately addressed.  Also, it noted that the powers and functions of the NCHRH and the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (to be established under the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 to regulate the higher education sector in the country) were overlapping in many areas.  Finally, it also expressed concern over the acute shortage of qualified health workers in the country as well as variations among states and rural and urban areas.  As per the 2001 Census, the estimated density of all health workers (qualified and unqualified) is about 20% less than the World Health Organisation’s norm of 2.5 health workers per 1000 population.

See here for PRS Standing Committee Summary.

Shortfall of health workers in rural areas

Public health care in rural areas is provided through a multi-tier network.  At the lowest level, there are sub health-centres for every population of 5,000 in the plains and 3,000 in hilly areas.  The next level consists of Primary Health Centres (PHCs) for every population of 30,000 in the plains and 20,000 in the hills.  Generally, each PHC caters to a cluster of Gram Panchayats.  PHCs are required to have one medical officer and 14 other staff, including one Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM).  There are Community Health Centres (CHCs) for every population of 1,20,000 in the plains and 80,000 in hilly areas.  These sub health centres, PHCs and CHCs are linked to district hospitals.  As on March 2011, there are 14,8124 sub health centres, 23,887 PHCs and 4809 CHCs in the country.[i] 

Sub-Health Centres and Primary Health Centres

  • § Among the states, Chhattisgarh has the highest vacancy of doctors at 71%, followed byWest Bengal(44%),Maharashtra(37%), and Uttar Pradesh (36%). On the other hand, Rajasthan (0.4%), Andhra Pradesh (3%) and Kerala (7%) have the lowest vacancies in PHCs.
  • § Nine states do not have any doctor vacancies at all at the PHC level. These states includeBihar, Jharkhand andPunjab.
  • § Ten states have vacancy in case of ANMs.  These are: Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,Gujarat,Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
  • § The overall vacancy for ANMs in the country is 5% while for doctors it is 24%.

Table 1: State-wise comparison of vacancy in PHCs

 

Doctors at PHCs

ANM at PHCs and Sub-Centres

State Sanctioned post Vacancy % of vacancy Sanctioned post Vacancy % of vacancy
 Chhattisgarh 1482 1058 71 6394 964 15
 West Bengal 1807 801 44 10,356 NA 0
 Maharashtra 3618 1326 37 21,122 0 0
 Uttar Pradesh 4509 1648 36 25,190 2726 11
 Mizoram 57 20 35 388 0 0
 Madhya Pradesh 1238 424 34 11,904 0 0
 Gujarat 1123 345 31 7248 817 11
 Andaman & Nicobar Isld 40 12 30 214 0 0
 Odisha 725 200 28 7442 0 0
 Tamil Nadu 2326 622 27 9910 136 1
 Himachal Pradesh 582 131 22 2213 528 24
 Uttarakhand 299 65 22 2077 0 0
 Manipur 240 48 20 984 323 33
 Haryana 651 121 19 5420 386 7
 Sikkim 48 9 19 219 0 0
 Meghalaya 127 23 18 667 0 0
 Delhi 22 3 14 43 0 0
 Goa 46 5 11 260 20 8
 Karnataka 2310 221 10 11,180 0 0
 Kerala 1204 82 7 4232 59 1
 Andhra Pradesh 2424 76 3 24,523 2876 12
 Rajasthan 1478 6 0.4 14,348 0 0
 Arunachal Pradesh  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 Assam  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 Bihar 2078  0 NA NA NA 0
 Chandigarh 0 0 NA 17 0 0
 Dadra & Nagar Haveli 6 0 NA 40 0 0
 Daman & Diu 3  0 NA 26 0 0
 Jammu & Kashmir 750  0 NA 2282 0 0
 Jharkhand 330  0 NA 4288 0 0
 Lakshadweep 4  0 NA NA NA 0
 Nagaland  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 Puducherry 37 0 NA 72 0 0
 Punjab 487 0 NA 4044 0 0
 Tripura  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 India 30,051 7,246 24 1,77,103 8,835 5
Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available here), PRS.Note: The data for all states is as of March 2011 except for some states where data is as of 2010.  For doctors, these states are Bihar, UP, Mizoram and Delhi.  For ANMs, these states are Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.
Community Health Centres
  • § A CHC is required to be manned by four medical specialists (surgeon, physician, gynaecologist and paediatrician) and 21 paramedical and other staff.
  • § As of March 2011, overall there is a 39% vacancy of medical specialists in CHCs.  Out of the sanctioned posts, 56% of surgeons, 47% of gynaecologists, 59% of physicians and 49% of paediatricians were vacant.
  • States such as Chhattisgarh, Manipur and Haryana have a high rate of vacancies at the CHC level.

Table 2: Vacancies in CHCs of medical specialists

  Surgeons Gynaecologists Physicians Paediatricians
State

% of vacancy

 Andaman & NicobarIsland 100 100 100 100
 Andhra Pradesh 74 0 45 3
 Arunachal Pradesh NA NA NA NA
 Assam NA NA NA NA
 Bihar 41 44 60 38
 Chandigarh 50 40 50 100
 Chhattisgarh 85 85 90 84
 Dadra & Nagar Haveli 0 0 0 0
 Daman & Diu 0 100 0 100
 Delhi 0 0 0 0
 Goa 20 20 67 66
 Gujarat 77 73 0 91
 Haryana 71 80 94 85
 Himachal Pradesh NA NA NA NA
 Jammu & Kashmir 34 34 53 63
 Jharkhand 45 0 81 61
 Karnataka 33 NA NA NA
 Kerala NA NA NA NA
 Lakshadweep 0 0 100 0
 Madhya Pradesh 78 69 76 58
 Maharashtra 21 0 34 0
 Manipur 100 94 94 87
 Meghalaya 50 NA 100 50
 Mizoram NA NA NA NA
 Nagaland NA NA NA NA
 Odisha 44 45 62 41
 Puducherry 0 0 100 NA
 Punjab 16 36 40 48
 Rajasthan 57% 46 49 24
 Sikkim NA NA NA NA
 Tamil Nadu 0 0 0 0
 Tripura NA NA NA NA
 Uttar Pradesh NA NA NA NA
 Uttarakhand 69 63 74 40
 West Bengal 0 57 0 78
 India 56 47 59 49
Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available here), PRS.

[i].  “Rural Healthcare System in India”, National Rural Health Mission (available here).

 

Lapses in the process of drug approval in India

May 29th, 2012 1 comment

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare tabled a Report in Parliament on May 8, 2012, on the functioning of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO).  CDSCO is the agency mandated with the regulation of drugs and cosmetics in India.  The Report covers various aspects of drug regulation including organizational structure and strength of CDSCO, approval of new drugs, and banning of drugs, among others.

Following the Report, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare has constituted a Committee to look into the procedure for drug regulation.  The Committee is expected to make its submissions within a period of two months.

This post focuses on irregularities in the approval of new drugs by CDSCO.  It discusses the regulations relating to drug approval and the Standing Committee’s observations on the working of CDSCO.

Approval of new drugs

Drugs are regulated by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945 [Rules].  The CDSCO, under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, is the authority that approves new drugs for manufacture and import.  State Drug Authorities are the licensing authorities for marketing drugs.

New Drugs are defined as:

  • drugs that have not been used in the country before,
  • drugs that have been approved by a Licensing Authority but are now being marketed for different purposes, and
  • fixed dose combinations of two or more drugs that have been individually approved before but are proposed to be combined in a fixed ratio that has not been approved.

The Rules require an applicant for a new drug to conduct clinical trials in India to determine the drug’s safety and efficacy.  These trials are necessary for both domestically manufactured and imported drugs.  However, the authority can exempt a drug from the requirement of local and clinical trials in the public interest based on data available in other countries.

Observations and recommendations of the Committee

The Committee found that a total of 31 new drugs were approved between January 2008 and October 2010 without conducting clinical trials on Indian patients.  The Report mentioned that drug manufacturers, CDSCO officials and medical experts colluded to approve drugs in violation of laws.  Following are some of the Report’s findings:

  • Under the Rules, the Drugs Controller General (India) (DCGI), the head of CDSCO, can clear sites of clinical trials after ensuring that major ethnic groups are enrolled in these trials to have a truly representative sample.  This rule was violated by the DCGI when sites for clinical trials were approved without ensuring diversity.  The Committee recommended that the DCGI approve sites for trials only if they cover patients from major ethnic backgrounds.
  •  The Report found that certain actions by experts were in violation of the Code of Ethics of the Medical Council of India.  A review of expert opinions revealed that several medical expert recommendations had been given as personal opinions rather than on the basis of scientific data.  Additionally, many expert opinions were written by what the Report calls ‘the invisible hands’ of drug manufacturers.  The Committee recommended that CDSCO formulate a clear set of written guidelines on the selection process of experts with emphasis on expertise in the area of drugs.
  •  The Rules ban the import and marketing of any drug whose use is prohibited in the country of origin.  CDSCO violated this rule by approving certain Fixed Dose Combination drugs for clinical trials without considering the drugs’ regulatory status in their respective country of origin.  Drugs such as Deanxit and Buclizine, which have been prohibited for sale and use in their countries of origin, Denmark and Belgium, respectively, were approved for clinical trials.  The Committee recommended an inquiry into the unlawful approval of these drugs.
  • The Rules require animal studies to be conducted for approval of a drug for use by women of reproductive age.  CDSCO violated this rule in approving Letrozole for treating female infertility.  Globally the drug has only been used as an anti-cancer drug for use among post-menopausal women.  The drug has not been permitted for use among women of reproductive age because of side effects.  The Committee recommended that responsibility be fixed for unlawfully approving Letrozole.
  •  Rules require Post-marketing Safety Update Reports (PSURs) on drugs to be submitted to CDSCO.  PSURs are used to collect information on adverse effects of drugs on Indian patients as a result of ethnic differences.  When asked by the Committee to furnish PSURs on 42 randomly selected new drugs, the Ministry was able to submit PSURs for only 8 drugs.  The Report contended that this action reflected a poor follow-up of side effects on Indian patients.  The Committee recommended that manufacturers of new drugs be warned about suspension of marketing approval unless they comply with mandatory rules on PSURs.