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India Should Work To Improve Public Health System In Order To Curb Malnutrition

“Poor sanitation and high morbidity are two key factors explaining India’s high malnutrition burden,” a LiveMint editorial states, adding, “India’s flawed food policy — which has focused solely on cereals such as rice and wheat at the expense of pulses, fruits and vegetables — and stark gender inequality, which causes Indian women to be far more under-nourished than men, are the other key factors that explain why India has struggled to combat malnutrition despite giant strides in reducing poverty.” The editorial continues, “Unfortunately, the food security ordinance which was hurriedly pushed through by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government does not address any of these issues,” and by “[c]onflating hunger with malnutrition … the UPA government [has] the political opportunity to score a populist goal, without addressing the root causes of India’s nutritional crisis.”

“While India’s dismal child malnutrition statistics have been receiving greater attention of late, the lack of adequate public health interventions which drives such poor nutritional outcomes, often escapes attention,” LiveMint writes. “The absence of an effective public health network in a densely populated country like ours has resulted in an extraordinarily high disease burden,” the editorial states, adding, “Despite transient and sporadic successes in tackling individual diseases, our public health system remains largely dysfunctional.” Though “investments in public health score on grounds of efficiency, they are not among the safest electoral bets. And the UPA realizes that,” the editorial writes, concluding, “It will perhaps take a while before any Indian politician musters the courage and imagination needed to sell public health investments to an electorate which may often value private goods (such as foodgrains) over investments in public health, which by definition is measured in negative terms: so many cholera deaths avoided or so many flu outbreaks averted. Till then, India will continue to be a happy hunting ground for communicable diseases” (7/9).