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Soaring expenses on child healthcare inadequate to address malnutrition

Posted:  Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Is India toeing the line on curbing malnutrition? Does our healthcare system require an overhaul? A recent report by IndiaSpend triggers these questions. IndiaSpend, which is a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism imitative, reported that over 40 million under-5 children are stunted in India, which is more than any country.

The recent national health reports and studies - Rapid Survey on Children (RSoC) and India Health Report for Nutrition Security in India (2015), shed light on the extent on malnutrition, cultural practices, lack of drinking water and sanitation facilities, poverty and the impact of public spending on health.

Analysis of the findings of these reports has revealed the following:

Child-health spending has increased 3 fold over the last decade

Over the past 2 decades, the central government’s spending on health has progressed from mere provision of nutritional supplements to a holistic approach ranging from maternal health to sanitation.

Between 2001 and 2005, the government’s health expenditure for children ranged from 0.28% to 0.31% of the total expenditure, and between 2.06–2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2005-06, with an aim to meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG), 0.56% of the total expenditure and 4.17% of GDP was allocated for child development.

However, despite the implementation of the Integrated Child Development Scheme and the growing health expenditure on children, India did not meet the MDG targets.

According to the Lok Sabha, the funds allocated for child health increased more than three times over a decade to 2014–15.

Disparity in the prevalence of malnutrition among the Indian states.

Prevalence of underweight in children demonstrates that some states like Kerala (19%) and Goa (21%) can be equated to middle-income countries such as Maldives (19%) and Belize (22%).>

Contrastingly, the highest proportion of underweight children in states like Jharkhand (42%) and Bihar (37%), are similar to low-income countries like Timor Leste (45%) and Niger (37%). >

Furthermore, research findings from the Lancet journal of health shows India hosts 17.5% of the global population and accounts for 20% of the global burden of disease, 27% of neonatal deaths and 21% of all under-5 child mortality. >

Since states’ share of divisible tax revenue has been increased from 32% to 42% (as per the devolution recommendations) the funds allocated by the Centre for social welfare schemes, impacting health and education spending has decreased. >

JP Nadda, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare says, “India remains committed to the critical issue, and stands ready to work with all stakeholders to eradicate malnutrition.” The way forward to curbing malnutrition is by making judicious use of limited resources like money and manpower. This process will receive impetus only if the state and central governments work together to implement the planned policies. >

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