NEW DELHI: A central government initiative to use smartphones to monitor services offered at anganwadis has helped identify 12,000 severely malnourished children in 46 districts of six states.
The women and child development ministry, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has distributed smartphones at 62,000 anganwadi centres in six states from June this year to track services offered there and to make nutrition-related interventions.
"We have given over 50,000 cellphones to anganwadi workers through which they give us daily reports on how many children were provided food, how many were weighed, etc.," Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said.
If there is a child who is underweight, a notice goes to the parents, an anganwadi supervisor and a Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), she said.
"Until now, we have identified 12,000 children (as severely underweight) and we are following up on their status with the district officials." These children are among the total 39 lakh under the age of six years covered so far in 47 districts of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan.
The programme also includes three lakh pregnant women and lactating mothers as beneficiaries.
"The smartphones help us to check pilferage in the distribution of take-home ration and also charts the growth of the child automatically on a graph on the basis of weight and height measured by a worker," WCD Secretary R K Shrivastava explained.
An anganwadi worker performs a whole host of activities with the help of a smartphone, including preparing her job chart, surveying houses in her neighbourhood, marking attendance of children, and sending a picture of hot cooked meals being served at the centre.
While distributing a packet of take-home ration, the worker scans the barcode on it and adds that information to the profile of the beneficiary maintained on the common application software.
The growth chart plotted by the software provides daily progress of the child.
"We will have daily figures of stunting, under-nutrition, over-nutrition instead of decadal information provided by the health ministry," the senior official added.
The data thus collected is monitored by a supervisor who oversees 20 anganwadi centres with the help of a dashboard that shows key indicators. There are also separate dashboards for district level officers such as a CDPO as well as officials at the Centre.
An SMS is automatically sent to the parents everytime a child shows up as underweight.
The government is now planning to cover 1,50,000 anganwadis across 77 districts in eight states by the end of this year.
These smartphones also help prevent fudging while entering data and will replace nearly 11 registers an anganwadi has to maintain on a daily basis.
An evaluation of Anganwadis carried out by government think-tank NITI Aayog in 2015 had found that nearly 24.3 per of the centres surveyed did not maintain records properly and that a review should be carried out to reduce the number of registers maintained.
Anganwadi centres are a part of the government's Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and provide a package of six services -- supplementary nutrition, referral services, immunisation, health check-up, pre-school non-formal education and health and nutrition education.
There are 13.55 lakh anganwadis across the country and 10 crore beneficiaries, who include children under the age of six years and pregnant women and lactating mothers.