During the past decade nutrition has drawn renewed attention and has been part of the political discourse, but in the past two years we have witnessed an unprecedented level of commitment toward nutrition at the highest level of policymaking. Poshan Abhiyaan is indeed a timely initiative in this direction. This was further backed by the huge investment commitments to fulfil the programme’s objectives. This was a much needed impetus to nutritional reforms, especially in the wake of the United Nation’s global nutrition report 2018, which highlights the malnutrition crisis in India—home to almost one-third of the world’s stunted children, beside having widespread micronutrient malnutrition or hidden hunger.

The recognition that nutrition is so closely linked to economic productivity of the country and that investing in nutrition is one of the best cost-effective investments to improve human capital is applaudable. The Poshan Abhiyaan, as a strategy, has tried to imbibe all the key mantras of a robust nutrition intervention, with convergence as its core strategy. The programme recognizes that malnutrition has its roots embedded into different sectors and has a transgenerational effect. Though the programme is led by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), the implementation strategy highlights convergence with various programmes and services, following a life course approach spanning adolescence, maternal and child health, and nutrition interventions. It also expands to other sectors, thus addressing underlying causes of malnutrition like food security, livelihood security and public health measures like water, hygiene and sanitation. However, to manage such a large plethora of initiatives and interventions at scale, there is a need for clear cut framework for convergence. The programme is trying to address this through the convergence action plan committee at different administrative levels— national, state, district and block. Another aspect that can play a crucial role in better implementation of the programme is exploring the potential of public-private partnership to channelize the initiatives to their intended outcomes. In this context, the Swasth Bharat Prerak programme, a joint initiative of the MWCD and TATA trusts, is supplementing the Poshan Abhiyaan by providing managerial and administrative support to the district and state administration for effective implementation.

Poshan Abhiyaan envisages the use of an information and communication technology-based real-time monitoring system. In that context, a National Nutrition Resource Centre-Central Project Management Unit has been constituted to ensure regular monitoring and review of all sectoral programmes under the scheme. For any nutrition and health programme to be successful it must have strong community mobilization and engagement component. It intends to convert nutrition awareness into a jan andolan, or “people’s movement", wherein all stakeholders are sensitized to take charge of their own, as well as the community’s health, nutrition and well-being. Lastly, any nutrition intervention is incomplete without a complementary strategy on behavioural change and nutrition education. Nutrition behaviour is engrained within us and no amount of resources can be effective unless we are empowered to think and take decision on our behalf for nutritional well-being. Poshan Abhiyaan must allocate resources for capacity building of the nutrition and healthcare workforce, and train them to be excellent communicators to bring about a change in behaviour of the community, thus improving nutritional care of women, infants and young children’s feeding practices, and utilization of health and nutrition services.

Suparna Ghosh-Jerath is additional professor and head (community nutrition) at the Indian Institute of Public Health.

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