India’s Losing Battle Against Malnutrition

In a report entitled, “India’s Malnourished Children: A Call for Reform and Action,” the World Bank warned that malnutrition is a problem with “dire consequences for morbidity, mortality, productivity and economic growth.”  According to a recent Reuters article, this is especially true in India, where millions of babies are born “underweight and then underfed during the crucial early stages of development,” thereby resulting in stunted physical and mental growth.  Moreover, malnourished children “end up less productive workers, too, costing India about 3 percent of national income.” 

In an attempt to ameliorate this crisis, the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has established several “nutrition centers,” or special clinics for malnourished children.  Currently, there are 60 such clinics in Madhya Pradesh, with hopes of expanding to other parts of the country as well:  

The scheme is intended to plug gaps in an older program that failed to reach children in the most critical first two years of life, educate mothers about nutrition and reign in corruption which meant free food handouts went missing. 

However, UNICEF staff members warn that the scheme has its shortcomings:

More after the jump.

Limited beds at the nutrition clinics are far from an end in themselves. They are a last resort, taking in only the most dangerously undernourished children. Two weeks later, they are discharged, most still malnourished, but no longer quite so at risk of dying.

Considering problems associated with cost, scalibility, human resources, and training/skills required of staff, would ready-to-use-therapeutic foods (RUTF) be a more viable, less resource-intensive, and efficient means of addressing the malnutrition crisis?  What benefit could vitamin and mineral fortifed food products engineered by companies such as Grameen Danone have in India’s case? 

What do you think?  What role can RUTF play?  Should the Indian government consider partnering up with the private sector in order to address this problem?  What role do you think community health organizations can play in this process (specifically those that  train field-level health workers – see SEWA Rural)?   What kind of partnership do you envision would be most effective, particularly from the lens of social entrepreneurship?

4 Responses

  1. RUTF formula called ‘plumpynut’ has demonstrated promising results in children in Malawi and Ethiopia who are suffering from malnutrition. (visit for further information).

    I support the suggestion of social business proposed at this posting. I have been working on a business plan to resolve the malnutrition crisis in India for some time (thanks to Prof. Yunus inspiring new book ‘Creative World Without Poverty’). The structure of this organization is strictly social business, where minimal profit is made, therefore, no dividend is provided to those who invest in this social business. Whatever minimal profit that is made will be reinvested into the business. This will be a self-sustaining and self-reliant business. In short, the business model will be similar to Grameen Danone which is not supported by governement or charity organization.

    I have come up with a simple recipe for RUTF similar in formula as plumpynut, however, work on raising capital, collaboration with field workers, packaging, distribution, scalability, etc. is in the works.

  2. Anil,

    Sounds like a great idea and there is a dire need for such innovative ideas. My first though that comes to my mind when I think about your plan is ‘Distribution’.

    Anyway, we would love to hear more about your idea. Why dont write a guest post for us?

  3. Santosh,

    I would love to post an article on the potential of ready-to-use-therapeutic- food as a solution to malnutrition crisis in India, and linking its promise to social business. Stay tuned for more on this.

    With regards to your question on distribution of the product to the market (preferable market is in rural India where malnutrition crisis seems to be predominant), my preliminary strategy was to get SHG’s involved in this process. However, I am a beginner in learning how SHG’s really work, and how practical these groups are as social entrepreneurs (I am based in the US and I need help from people in India who share the sentiments on this project).

  4. […] response to dwindling school enrollment rates and rising rates of malnutrition in children, the Indian government devised the Mid-day Meal Scheme, which is supposed to provide daily, […]

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