Bhubaneswar (Odisha) [India], December 1 (ANI/BusinessWire India): Women & Child Development Dept., Govt. of Odisha has signed an MoU with the American India Foundation (AIF) to implement an Integrated Program for Children to collaboratively alleviate undernutrition, promote early childhood education (ECE), and improve the mental health of 10,000 children in the preschool age group and 12,000 children in the 11-15 years age range in the Thakurmunda & Gopabandhu Nagar Blocks of Mayurbhanj District. The MoU was signed in the august presence of Basanti Hembram, Minister of State (Independent Charge), Department of Women and Child Development, Lok Seva Bhawan, Bhubaneswar, and Shubha Sarma (IAS), Commissioner cum Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development, Government of Odisha at the W& C.D. Conference Hall, Bhubaneshwar. The signatories also included Nityananda Barik, Additional Secretary W & C.D. Department, and Mathew Joseph, Country Director, The American India Foundation. As per The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 5, one in three children under 5 years is stunted in India (indicates prolonged under-nutrition) while 19.3 per cent of children under 5 years are wasted in India (indicates acute under-nutrition). Further exacerbating the problem, only 13.6 per cent of children aged 5 attended pre-primary school during 2019-20. COVID-19 further laid bare prevailing inequalities in the health and education systems, disproportionately impacting children in the poorest neighborhoods and communities. To mitigate these enormous challenges, this Integrated Program undertaken by AIF will strengthen the ongoing efforts of the Government of Odisha by providing nutritious meals to children in the age group of 6 months to 3 years at Anganwadi centers, strengthening the skills of frontline and health workers for providing quality home-based care to sick children, reinforce the referral linkages for the timely referral of severely malnourished children and ensure school readiness of under 6 children and train the headmasters/teachers to integrate sessions of mental health as part of the school curriculum. This pilot intervention will reach 2.5 lakh community members, 20,000 children under 6 years of age, and, 12,000 adolescents in 38 Anganwadi centers across Thakurmunda & Cabandhu Nagar Blocks, Mayurbhanj District. Speaking on the occasion of the MoU signing, Basanti Hembram (Minister of State (Independent Charge), Department of Women and Child Development, Lok Seva Bhawan, Bhubaneswar lauded the initiative and said, "providing hot cooked meals to children (6 months to 3 years) at AWCs, would have an edge over existing interventions in the state. W&CD dept. is adding another feather to its cap by piloting the Integrated Program for Children-Health, Nutrition & Early Childhood Education. Strengthening mental health intervention for adolescents is another unique feature of this pilot."
"This program would improve the nutritional status of malnourished children, encourage preschool readiness in children, and promote mental health & well-being among adolescents," opined Subha Sarma, Commissioner-cum-Secretary.
Under the initiative, AIF will undertake the training of Anganwadi workers, ASHAs, and supervisors on nutrition counseling and home-based care and organize periodic meetings to discuss progress on the identification and management of undernourished children. It will also review/suggest improvements to dietary diversity and meal plans for mid-day/hot-cooked meals, provided at the Anganwadi centers.
With the accrued experience of working with ecosystem stakeholders for over a decade, towards making healthcare available in inaccessible rural and impoverished areas, AIF's flagship Public Health program - Maternal and Newborn Survival Initiative (MANSI), will play a pivotal role in this project. The initiative will undertake the training of schoolteachers and facilitate in-school sessions on mental health and well-being, while also undertaking regular growth monitoring of children in coordination with the Anganwadi and ASHA workers. The awareness sessions designed under the aegis of DWCD will also capacitate and counsel caregivers through intensive home-based and community-based training and support frontline workers in the provision of routine services including immunization, micronutrient supplementation, deworming programs, etc. "AIF is proud to partner with the Department of Women and Child Health, Government of Odisha, to better serve vulnerable children and adolescents in the Thakur Munda and GB Nagar blocks of the Mayurbhanj district. The partnership not only furthers AIF's mission of improving the lives of India's underprivileged, with a special focus on women, children, and youth but also aims to leverage the expertise and innovation of MANSI to improve service quality in the community," said Mathew Joseph, Country Director, AIF. Ensuring a complete integration of this partnership, AIF will also undertake endline evaluations and periodic process documentation to assess the success of the project. The partnership will transform the future of vulnerable children in target geographies who were impacted by multiple shocks created by the pandemic and its containment measures. The demonstration of improved nutritional and educational outcomes under this initiative will set the stage for a state-wide roll-out of successful strategies.
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