NYU Wagner Capstone Team Arrives in the Heart of Rural India to Assist the Real Medicine Foundation’s Malnutrition Eradication Program

The Real Medicine Foundation (RMF) and New York University’s prestigious Capstone Program have formed a year-long partnership to provide RMF India’s malnutrition eradication program with expert graduate student advising and to provide NYU’s Wagner Public Service Masters students a chance to “learn by doing.”  This week, three members of this four person Capstone team, Jaimie Shaff, Eyiwunmi Salako, and Hyein Lee, arrived in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, to take part in the field portion of their work.
The Capstone program, a mandatory component of NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service’s Masters Program, assigns students to “client” organizations to consult on a specified program for the year.  These students and their faculty advisors apply their academic knowledge, diverse backgrounds, and innovative ideas to the various challenges faced by non-governmental organizations across sectors.

Back in September, RMF India’s malnutrition eradication program was one of 70 NGO programs, chosen out of over 140 applicants, to be accepted into this program by the faculty and students.  RMF asked the Capstone students to help us look at some long-term questions we want to answer about malnutrition service delivery.

The students spent the first semester conducting research for us and helping frame important questions that need to be answered in the field.  This month’s field visit was a chance for the students to understand the unique challenges we face on the ground and an opportunity for RMF staff to benefit from the fresh observations of the students.

The students visited RMF’s field headquarters in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, one of the most impoverished districts in a state where over 60 million children under the age of five are diagnosed with malnutrition in India. Madhya Pradesh has the country’s highest malnutrition burden, with 60% of its children under-five malnourished. Of the six million malnourished children in the state, 1.3 million of them have severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and one million have moderate acute malnutrition (MAM).

RMF’s malnutrition strategy rests on trying to close the gap between the resources available and the families who need them by focusing our program on the basics of malnutrition identification, treatment, and prevention and inserting simple, but innovative technologies and practices. We’re about to scale up our efforts from our initial villages in Jhabua to 500 villages in 4 additional districts, hiring 55 community nutrition educators to help us.  As we plan our baselines, we asked the Capstone students to help us gather information on malnutrition knowledge, prevention activities, and treatment in government facilities throughout Jhabua and Alirajpur districts. Their research will help provide RMF with information about communities and facilities that are in need of assistance, as well as identify obstacles and problems faced by malnutrition workers when working with local communities.

The students visited all 5 Nutritional Rehabilitation Centers (NRCs) in Jhabua and Alirajpur districts in southwest Madyha Pradesh. As part of their research, the students interacted with NRC workers and doctors to examine their general knowledge of malnutrition, treatment protocols for managing SAM, and gather any recommendations the workers had on better management of malnutrition.

In addition to the NRCs, the students also met with 15 Anganwadi workers (village health workers) at their centers throughout the district. Since the Anganwadi worker is the first line of defense against malnutrition, particularly in remote rural areas, their insights and knowledge are vital to the success of RMF’s programs.

Furthermore, the students also met with several government officials in Jhabua district who were enthusiastic about receiving their inputs. One of RMF’s primary goals in malnutrition management is to work closely with local government in an effort to streamline and strengthen existing programs.

The Capstone students will prepare a full report and deliver it to RMF on May 5, 2010. RMF will use this information as part of a larger malnutrition program aimed at preventing malnutrition with at least 80,000 children in 500 villages in the districts of Jhabua, Alirajpur, Barwani, Khandua, Khargone.

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