New Delhi: Less than half the students in government-run schools are getting iron and folic acid tablets under a government programme, compromising aims to combat anaemia among adolescent girls.
The gap came to light during a health ministry review of the centre’s Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) Program for adolescents, held this year till September.
While the government is charting out ambitious investment plans for combating malnutrition and anaemia, especially among girls, the coverage and compliance of iron and folic acid supplements among adolescents remain as low as 30-35%. “Not much has improved under the anaemia control strategy and anaemia continued to be a serious issue among adolescents. One reason identified for this was that the programme was not being monitored. Now we have started reviewing the program and found that coverage is 30-35%," said Ajay Khera, deputy commissioner (adolescent health), ministry of health and family welfare.
According to the National Family Health Survey, 2015-16, more than half of children are anaemic in 10 of the 15 states and Union territories where the programme is being implemented. The latest data after the review of the program depicts that around 35 million schoolchildren were provided iron and folic acid supplements in 2016-17 and 32 million children were given the supplements till September 2017 in 2017-18.
A recent survey by the Population Council of India of 10-14-year-olds in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar—the worst affected states—showed that the burden of malnutrition is heavy.
About 6.6 million and 12.0 million young boys and girls were anaemic and 1.2 million and 2.8 million were severely anaemic in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, respectively.
As the effectiveness of the programme was not being properly monitored, the Union health ministry is now proposing keeping a close tab on it. The ministry is also planning to strengthen its adolescent health programme—the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram —by making it promotion- and prevention-centric and monitorable.
The 11th World Congress on Adolescent Health organized by the International Association for Adolescent Health (IAAH) last week in the national capital also focused on investment in adolescent health.
Public health experts say that merely providing iron and folic acid will not help in combating anaemia in adolescents, specially girls.
“Supplementation of only iron and folic acid is inadequate to prevent or correct anaemia among the adolescents. Other haemopoietic (blood forming) nutrients are equally important and actively involved in the process of blood formation," said Anita Kant, head of gynaecology at the Asian Institute of Medical Sciences in Faridabad.
“In addition to iron, there are other nutrients that prevent or reduce anemia and these include vitamin B6, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin C and folate and proteins. Traditionally Indian girls tend to eat less which leads to poor nutritional intake and leaving them malnourished," she said.