Despite Anaemia Control Programmes, Women in Haryana Continue to Live With Iron Deficiency

The nationa nutritional anaemia control programmes have been carried out in Haryana for more than 50 years. Yet, the condition is prevalant in the state particularly among women and children.

According to the 5th National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) report released on November 24, 2021, more than half of the children and women are anemic in States and Unitary Territories that have been covered in the second phase of the survey. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey was carried out in two parts. The first part was conducted in 2020 before the first phase of lockdown, and the second was conducted in April this year by the Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses.

According to the state survey, Haryana’s figures have come down marginally by 2.5%– 60.6% from 63.1% in the non-pregnant women aged between 15 and 49. The number also decreased slightly by 1-2% in all women of this age group. However, the number of anaemic pregnant women has been increasing for decades.

Poor nutrition, multiple pregnancies, and lack of medical facilities have become leading causes of iron deficiency across Haryana. But in the report of the survey, it could be seen that in the rural areas, anaemic women are larger in number than women in the urban areas. In rural areas, 57.2% of pregnant women are anemic whereas 54.6% of pregnant women are anemic in the urban areas.

Maksoodan, an 30- year-old ASHA worker in the village of Malab, Haryana said, “Here in the villages, women eat Multani Mitti instead of healthy food that is why they have iron deficiency”.

Another Anganwadi worker who was not comfortable sharing her name said, “In pregnancy, most of the women develop a craving to eat Multani Mitti or mud. It is due to mineral deficiency or Anemia”.

According to Shabana, an Anganwadi worker of the local area, “In the villages of Mewat District, Haryana, the disease of anaemia is a normal thing for women. Here, every second woman is anaemic with a hemoglobin level of seven or less than seven, because most of the people of the villages don’t adopt the family planning contraception to prevent the multiple pregnancies”.

Shabnam with her child at Anganwadi Centre in a village in Nuh. Photo credit: Snobar 

“Women and men both consider the kids Allah ki den (god’s blessing). They have a strong belief that adopting the method of surgery to prevent pregnancy is forbidden in their religion. And when we offer them medicines in place of surgery to prevent the pregnancy, they refuse to take them saying that the medicines have side effects which can affect their bodies. They fear medicines,” she added.

A 40-year-old widow, Barfi, who has been working as an Anganwadi helper in the village of Malab, Haryana, for ten years, earning Rs 5,000 per month said, “I keep getting a headache and feel tired every day because I have to work at my Anganwadi center as well as at home.”

“I never visit the doctor because I can neither afford to see a doctor nor buy medicines, with my little salary. I have a family. I cannot waste my salary on my treatment,” she added.

Shabnam Bano, 40, weighs around 35 kg, has ten children, is anaemic with six grams HB, which is half of the normal range of HB- 12 grams. Her tenth child was born in the month of September this year, and he is also anaemic.

“My children took birth at home with the help of Daai except for the tenth child. He was born in a hospital because during his time my condition was very serious. No one could handle it at home, so I was admitted to hospital,” she said.

Shabnam, 28, has three children – one boy and two girls who were born after the death of her youngest three-year-old girl child due to double pneumonia. She lives in India’s most backward district Mewat, in Haryana. “When my three-year-old girl was dead, everyone in my husband’s family was happy because she was a girl,” she said.

I do not know if I am anemic or not, but I feel very tired every day, and no one takes me to the hospital when I get ill because, in our village, there is no hospital. There is only one clinic and there aren’t any female doctors. I avoid going there because I feel shame in front of male doctors”.

In 2018, the centre government launched the nutrition awareness campaign ‘Anaemia Mukt Bharat’ with the main aim of reducing the prevalence of anaemia by three percentage points per year among children, adolescents, and women of reproductive age from 15 to 49 years by 2022. But the reports of NFHS-5 show the lack of progress towards the aim of the campaign.

Snobar is 21- year-old independent journalist based in New Delhi. You can find her at Twitter @snobar19.

Featured image credit: Reuters