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Scaling up core micronutrient interventions: It’s $12 bn vs $574 mn

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Malnutrition

New Delhi, Sep 12: Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, was quoted as saying: “If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger.” Sadly, even today 248 million children across the globe are suffering from one or the other form of malnourishment — stunting, wasting and obesity. It accounts for 45 per cent of child deaths.

The significance of the problem is relatively higher in India as, with 20 per cent of the world’s child population, it has one of the world’s highest malnutrition rates. The root of the problem lies in gross negligence of public investment in healthcare facilities, let alone a focused intervention in child health amenities. Public expenditure on health, as a percentage of total health expenditure, has hovered between 25 and 30 percent in the last decade, while the world average stood at 60 percent. As a matter of fact, only 16 countries have a lower public expenditure on healthcare than India.

The inadequacy of government intervention is clearly reflected in the country’s performance on child health indicators. As an extension of the fact that the country has the highest levels of malnutrition, India also has the highest number of stunted children in the world. The other aspects of malnutrition are no better off. A high proportion of children with anaemia, low weight, lower levels of breast feeding and evolving problems of obesity are also equally of concern. The percentage of anaemic children, although depicting a declining trend, is still at 58.4; the percentage of overweight children increased to 6.1 in 2014; and finally, there has also been a rise in wasted children by 1.2 percentage points during the last decade.

Over the years, India has suffered heavy economic losses due to such absurd levels of malnutrition. Any aspect of malnutrition directly impacts a person’s productivity levels, affecting his economic viability. According to World Bank estimates, productivity losses due to malnutrition are more than 10 per cent of lifetime individual earnings or about 2-3 percent of the GDP. Annually, India loses over $12 billion in GDP to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

This is because children who are undernourished show lower activity levels and reduced attention. Studies show that low weight at birth and stunting can reduce a child’s IQ by five points. In addition, anaemia and other deficiencies can have irreversible damage on a child’s ability to learn. A recent World Bank study found that stunting among children in India reduces their per capita income by 13 per cent. Since two-thirds of India’s current workforce was stunted in childhood, the economic losses that the country has borne due to it through generations is unimaginable.

The issue gets even more complicated for nutritional deficiencies in a girl child. Malnourishment in a girl, combined with the Indian trend of early marriage, has a cascading effect of health complexities across generations. Data by National Family Health Survey suggests that 26.8 per cent of the women in India are married before 18. Childbearing at an early age can cause nutritional deficiencies in the womb and increase the risk of death by 2-10 times. Moreover, 41.4 per cent of the mothers do not receive any antenatal care during their first trimester. This induces other risks associated with mineral deficiencies in the womb such as blindness, dwarfism and also chronic diseases like diabetes in adulthood.

There is also a tendency among Indians to avoid hospitals due to the high out-of-pocket expenditure during delivery. The average out-of-pocket expenditure per delivery in a public healthcare system in rural areas is almost Rs 3,000 ($47), where 75 per cent of the population earns less than Rs 5,000 a month. Such excessive costs of child and maternal care lead to a widespread inclination to evade hospitals for childbirth, which results in health complications among children and even death.

The potential gains from addressing these issues will far exceed the costs incurred. As against the $12 billion that the country loses to nutritional deficiencies each year, scaling up core micronutrient interventions would cost less than $574 million annually. Research suggests that $1 spent on nutritional interventions in India could generate $34.1 to $38.6 in public economic returns, three times more than the global average. This makes boosting nutrition levels across the country one of the biggest low hanging fruit in the Indian public policy sphere.

 

Health

‘Young people play important role in helping stop Covid-19 transmission’

“Working together, all of us, old and young, from everywhere in the world, can overcome this pandemic,”

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus WHO

Geneva, Aug 13 : Although most young people are not at high risk of severe disease during the COVID-19 pandemic, they play an important role in the collective responsibility to help stop the virus transmission, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

In celebrating International Youth Day, with a theme of “Youth Engagement for Global Action” this year, the WHO Director-General, together with UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay, recognized young people, youth organizations, and youth networks around the world for their collective action during COVID-19, reports Xinhua news agency.

“This pandemic is having a major impact on the future of young adults — not just from the virus itself, but because of its impacts on the economy, employment, education, and the overall health system,” Tedros said, asking young people to “be informed and make choices about their health to prepare for long and healthy lives”.

“It is critical that we engage with young people now to start the journey to understanding their own health.”

He further left three requests for them.

First, he called on organizations, intuitions and governments “to listen, engage and empower young adults as partners in action. Our future is their future”.

“Second, we have to give young people a much larger role in political decision-making. Their voices often go unheard, even though more than half of the world’s population is under 35 years old.

“Finally, and most importantly, to young adults around the world, I say: Think big and be bold. We count on you for your creativity and your fresh ideas…

“Working together, all of us, old and young, from everywhere in the world, can overcome this pandemic,” he added.

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Health

Over 22,000 ‘Make in India’ ventilators given to states: Centre

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ventilator, prototype

New Delhi, Aug 13 : The Centre on Thursday stated that it has distributed more than 3.04 crore N95 masks and over 1.28 crore PPE kits to states, union territories and Central institutions free of cost in the last five months. Over 22,000 ‘Make in India’ ventilators have also been delivered.

The Centre has been strengthening the health infrastructure to fight the pandemic and effectively manage it. Along with augmenting Covid-19 facilities, the government has been providing medical supplies free of cost to the states and union territories to supplement their efforts.

“Since 11th March 2020, the Union Government has distributed more than 3.04 crore N95 masks and more than 1.28 crore PPE kits to states, UTs, Central Institutions, free of cost. Also, more than 10.83 crore HCQ tablets have been distributed to them,” the government said.

In addition, 22,533 ‘Make in India’ ventilators have been delivered and their “installation and commissioning is also being ensured”.

“Most of the products supplied by the Government of India were not being manufactured in the country in the beginning. The rising global demand due to the pandemic resulted in their scarce availability in the foreign markets,” it added.

As a result, resolve for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Make in India’ has been strengthened and most of the supplies made by the Union Government are domestically manufactured.

With the combined efforts of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Textiles and Ministry of Pharmaceuticals, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and others, the domestic industry has been encouraged and facilitated to manufacture and supply essential medical equipment like PPEs, N95 masks, ventilators, etc., during this period.

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Health

Russia to begin COVID-19 vaccine production within 2 weeks

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COVID-19 Vaccine

MOSCOW, Aug. 12 : Russia will start the production of its COVID-19 vaccine within two weeks, the country’s health minister Mikhail Murashko said Wednesday.

“First of all, the production facilities in Russia will be oriented towards the domestic market, to meet the need of our citizens,” Murashko said during a news conference.

Russia will offer the vaccine to other countries when it has sufficient amounts, the minister said, adding that foreign nations’ doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccine are unfounded.

The platform where the vaccine was created has been thoroughly studied and its authors have accumulated a sufficient amount of scientific data to guarantee its safety, he added.

The world’s first registered vaccine against the novel coronavirus was announced by President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday during an online meeting with government officials.

The vaccine, named Sputnik V, was developed by the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, alongside the Russian Direct Investment Fund.

Russia plans to produce at least five million doses of the vaccine a month from December through January, according to Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya National Research Center.

He said that the center is also preparing documents to obtain permission to test the vaccine on children.

The vaccine for children will be the same as the one for adults, but will likely be administered in a different dosage, requiring additional testing, Gintsburg added.

So far, Russia has tallied a total of 902,701 COVID-19 cases, including 15,260 deaths and 710,298 recoveries.

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