Anaemia rises even as government plans 50% cut

Anaemia rises even as government plans 50% cut

New Delhi: The government aims to reduce anaemia among Indian women by 50% over the next five years even as official figures show that it is more prevalent among married women now than before.

Anaemia is a deficiency in the oxygen-carrying component of the blood, which results from low iron content.

“The Planning Commission has recommended this target for reduction in anaemia among women and girls by the end of the 11th Plan," said an official who did not wish to be identified. The 11th Plan runs between 2007 and 2012.

The ambitious target notwithstanding, official figures show that the incidence of anaemia among married women actually increased between 1998-99 and 2005-06. The percentage of pregnant and married women suffering from anaemia went up in three out of every four and three out of every five states, respectively.

According to the National Family Health Survey, while the percentage of married women aged 15-49 suffering from anaemia rose from 51.8% to 56.1%, the percentage of pregnant women suffering from anaemia went up from 49.7% to 57.8%.

The Planning Commission has suggested an all-round empowerment of women to combat this deficiency, as anaemia is linked to women’s general health and deprivation. “The commission has recommended full immunization and maternity benefits for women, besides political representation, assets and land rights in agriculture and reduction in wage differentials," said the official.

While the commission recommends such all-round empowerment of women, budgetary allocation for women-specific schemes during the 10th Plan was just 9% (Rs1,246 crore) of the total budget of the ministry of women and child development.

Besides halving the incidence of anaemia, the commission has also targeted a reduction in the infant and maternal mortality rates.

Infant mortality rate, the probability of dying between birth and one year of age per 1,000 live births, came down from 79 in 1992-93 to 68 in 1998-99 and 57 in 2005-06. The Planning Commission has recommended a sharp reduction, to 28, by 2012.

Says Marzio Babille, chief of health at Unicef India: “The deployment, training and supervision of skilled birth attendants, together with the encouraging progress of institutional deliveries set forth by the Janani Suraksha Yojna (a programme of the national rural health mission), are two promising steps in protecting the lives of the mother and the baby."

Babille, however, cautioned that the fresh target of 50% reduction in infant mortality rate would need “unprecedented" efforts.

Kiran Maheshwari, a Lok Sabha member and president of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Mahila Morcha, or women’s wing, said the state governments could help by offering incentives to promote health care among women. “In my home state of Rajasthan, the government rewards anyone who brings a pregnant woman to a hospital for delivery," she said. “Such incentives work because people in the tribal areas also know they can get Rs600 by doing this." Rajasthan has a BJP government.

Among relatively developed states, Haryana topped the list with nearly 70% of pregnant women suffering from anaemia in 2005-06.

Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Rajasthan also recorded a rise in the percentage of women suffering from the disease.

“How can you talk about health without first ensuring safety and dignity to women?" asked Mamata Banerjee, a Lok Sabha member and founder of the opposition All India Trinamool Congress. “I am not a feminist, but I believe women need protection to live, let alone live healthy."