Tackling Stunting & Malnutrition in Meghalaya

Recent field visits led by the Development commissioner, Mr. Sampath Kumar, IAS have revealed that some mothers are not producing enough breast milk, leading them to introduce complementary feeding before their infants reach six months of age, believing their children are still hungry while being fed with breast milk alone.

In Meghalaya, addressing the nutritional needs of children presents a significant opportunity for early childhood interventions. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 46.5 per cent of children under 5 are stunted, 12.1 per cent experience wasting, and 26.6 per cent are underweight. While these statistics highlight current challenges, they underscore the potential for impactful interventions. Improving children’s nutrition can lead to substantial benefits in their physical development and cognitive abilities, laying a strong foundation for future learning and growth.

The Performance Grading Index Report for Districts by the Union Ministry of Education in 2023 showed that Meghalaya has room for improvement in learning outcomes. By focusing on enhancing nutrition, the state can pave the way for better educational performance and the overall well-being of its young population.

In response to the issue, the Meghalaya Early Childhood Development Mission (MECDM) conducted a two-day sensitization training program titled ‘Nutrition through Life Cycle Approach’ on the 1st & 2nd of July 2024 at the Pasteur Institute, Ganesh Das Maternal and Child Health Hospital, Shillong. This training, conducted in collaboration with IIT-Bombay using the Health Spoken Tutorial pedagogy, focused on the techniques of exclusive breastfeeding, a critical component of early childhood nutrition. Apart from breastfeeding, the training covered essential topics such as protein and carbohydrate calculation, understanding various nutrients, reflecting on nutritional counts, and modifying diets accordingly. The principles of complementary feeding were also discussed. The training’s objective is to combat high stunting rates caused by incorrect breastfeeding practices and the right knowledge of nutritional practices. 

The training commenced with a welcome address by the Chief Operating Officer (COO) MECDM, Mr. Ronald Kynta. He warmly welcomed the resource persons from IIT-Bombay, including Dr Rupal Dalal and Dr. Devaji Patil, along with their colleagues. Mr Kynta emphasized the urgency of addressing poor nutritional outcomes in Meghalaya, citing concerning statistics from NFHS. He also highlighted that many mothers in the region do not practice exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with some introducing complementary feeding as early as three months. These practices, he noted, are prevalent in both rural and urban areas in Meghalaya. 

The first day began with a session facilitated by Dr. Patil, Consultant for the Health Spoken Tutorial Project at IIT Bombay, simplifying the concepts of protein and carbohydrate calculations. He emphasized the need for pregnant and lactating mothers to consume atleast 80 grams of protein daily while decreasing their carbohydrate intake. This was followed by a three-hour session on breastfeeding where Dr. Rupal, Adjunct Associate Professor at CTARA, IIT Bombay, demonstrated correct techniques using a baby doll and presented educational videos to improve comprehension. Dr. Dalal also emphasized the importance of reducing junk food intake, recommending that instead of purchasing biscuits, individuals opt for eggs as a healthier, protein-rich substitute.

Dr. Devji also conducted the session on the second day, which began with participants sharing their experiences from the first day. They discussed the 45 key points on latching and breastfeeding techniques they had learned and applied during their visit to the maternity ward. It is to be noted that,  the participants also visited the Ganesh Das Maternity Ward, where they conducted a practical demonstration of proper breastfeeding techniques, including the correct position and latch, with the mothers. This hands-on experience provided valuable knowledge and skills to the participants, enhancing their ability to support and educate mothers in their communities. The participants were also divided into groups for interactive sessions and group activities.

One of the Lady Supervisors responded, “Visiting the maternity ward and sharing knowledge with the mothers is a first-of-its-kind experience here. It is beneficial because the mothers also gain valuable insights. In Meghalaya, many women practice breastfeeding incorrectly, and this training will help both the trainers and the mothers to improve their techniques. she added.”

Addressing the gathering, Principal Secretary & Development Commissioner, Mr Sampath Kumar, IAS, Government of Meghalaya, emphasized the critical issue of stunting among children in the state. He highlighted his discussion with Dr. Rupal has about 45 techniques to address stunting, covering not only the importance of breastfeeding but also cognitive development, community mobilization, empathy, and interactive play with children. “This initiative is a significant step forward for Meghalaya,” Mr. Kumar said. “As trained officials, it is crucial to carry this important responsibility forward and utilize your skills to their fullest potential to benefit your communities.” 

The 53 participants, including District Programme Officers (DPOs), Child Development Project Officers (CDPOs), Lady Supervisors (LS) from the Social Welfare Department (SWD), District Nursing Instructors, Supervisors from the Health Department, and District Functional Specialists from the Meghalaya State Rural Livelihoods Society (MSRLS)/National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM), Cluster coordinators as well as Program Managers from the ECD Mission, and Development Associates from the State Capability Enhancement Project (SCEP) were part of the training.