India: Malnutrition Eradication Program, Inspiration Beyond the Numbers

March 4, 2011

Caitlin McQuilling

By Caitlin McQuilling

RMF Community Nutrition Educator, Samoti, and a child recovering from SAM.

Photo Credits: Ximena Prugue

In March 2009, when I was conducting the initial field visits to develop RMF’s Malnutrition Eradication Program I visited a village called Shali Dana, in Kalwa block of Khandwa district in Madhya Pradesh. I remember being shocked and overwhelmed by the amount of children with severe acute malnutrition I saw in this village and the complete apathy and absence of government services in this village. We saw dozens of glassy eyed children with thinning hair, bulging stomachs, and protruding ribs, empty anganwadi centers, and children who had been tortured by traditional healers in the name of recovery because of the absence of government health services. Seeing this village convinced me that RMF had no choice but to do something drastic about this problem.

Fast forward to March 2, 2011. Today I spent the day with our Community Nutrition Educator Samoti in Shali Dana. She’s been working in this village for exactly one year and has made over 25 visits to this village, every 2 weeks. Samoti has spent this last year developing a strong relationship with the community, visiting each house with malnourished kids on a bi-monthly visit, and has supported and encouraged government anganwadi workers. Also over the last year, our friends at Spandan, a wonderful local NGO, have worked closely with the government anganwadi center to upgrade the center using community resources and have been working with the anganwadi worker to improve the quality of preschool education and other services offered to the community. They have also done a lot of work to promote education in this village in both Hindi and Korku, the local tribal language which is in danger of dying out.

I almost started crying today as I sat in a beautifully painted anganwadi center listening to excited, energetic kids singing nursery rhymes in their native Korku when I remembered that this was the same village which shocked me so 2 years ago. While being serenaded by the children Samoti showed me her register and went over the details of all the children with severe acute malnutrition in the village. When she did her baseline survey in March 2010, this village had 14 children with severe acute malnutrition, roughly 15% of all children under 5 in the village, an alarming rate of SAM.

Now the village has 0 SAM children. We visited the households of 10 kids today who were formerly SAM. Some of these kids were positively fat, while others were now moderately malnourished. Watching Samoti made me proud. As she walked through the village, she was greeted by each family walking by. She scooped up children as she walked, joked with elderly women, and walked straight into people’s homes announced to pinch babies on the cheek. If I didn’t know Samoti to be one of the warmest and most compelling women I’ve met, I would think this was all staged. But having terrified 100s of kids by measuring their mid-upper arm circumference to assess their level of malnutrition I know that you cannot just come to a village once or twice and have kids walk up to you with their arms out, waiting for their MUAC reading. And that’s exactly what a few of the toddlers in this village did!

If you’ve read the annual report from the Eradicate Malnutrition Program its easy to be overwhelmed by the numbers:
• 65 staff across 600 villages
• 37,141 families and 56,194 children reached during the baseline survey
• 6,857 village nutritional training sessions conducted, training over 68,410 people
• Counseled 91,034 individuals on malnutrition prevention and treatment
• Successfully referred 895 children to NRCs
• Achieved a 25% reduction in childhood malnutrition across intervention villages, 17,994 children who directly improved because of this intervention

They’re unbelievable numbers when you add them up, even for those of us who saw the progress in the field and did the adding. I’m one of the members of the RMF team who spent hours and hours analyzing our program data. Eyes bleary from staring at excel sheets and going absolutely crazy over the errors while cleaning data, we sacrificed our sanity and eyesight to make sure our data is as accurate as possible.

Even though I personally verified forms and conducted spot checks in the field to ensure the accuracy of reporting, I have a hard time believing that we reached over 80,000 children! But today watching a new mother glow as she was breastfeeding her chubby infant and watching Samoti joke with mothers in the formerly tragic Shali Dana, I saw beyond the numbers and graphs to what RMF’s best at. Here’s an invitation to every RMF supporter: come out and see for yourself the reality behind our numbers. There’s nothing like it.

Country Page: India Initiative Page: Childhood Malnutrition Eradication Program