How to tackle malnutrition and main a healthy BMI

Asha’s new initiatives to treat anaemic, underweight and malnourished women
Malnutrition Clinics at Asha cater to underprivileged women like  (right) Farhat Khatoon
Malnutrition Clinics at Asha cater to underprivileged women like (right) Farhat Khatoon

Only one meal a day was being cooked at 19-year-old Farhat Khatoon’s home in Zakhira slum, after her husband, a daily wager, lost his job at the slipper factory nearby in the lockdown. She came to weigh 33kg with a BMI of 15.3, suffered from constant headaches and weakness and had lost her appetite. Check-up results at the Asha centre confirmed that she was also anaemic.  

Many women are facing similar struggles like Khatoon. “This is a direct consequence of simply not having sufficient daily caloric consumption, coupled with women always eating last after feeding the entire family. So, three months back, Asha launched Malnutrition Clinics to treat malnutrition and anaemia in women from slums, between 15-49 years of age. A Supplementary Nutrition programme was also launched at four Asha centres as a pilot project, two-and-a-half months ago,” adds Dr Kiran Martin, Founder and Director, Asha Community Health and Development Society. 

The Malnutrition Clinics are organised at all the Asha centres once a week, and are attended by approximately 30 women. Over 25 women attend the Supplementary Nutrition programme every day at the four Asha centres – Zakhira, Chanderpuri, Seelampur and Mayapuri. “This sees 100 ladies per week and about 400-500 ladies per month. In three months, 1,500 women have benefitted at each centre, which means about 6,000 ladies across four centres,” she adds. 

A BMI of less than 16 indicates severe thinness, and is known to be associated with an increased risk of ill health, poor physical performance, lethargy, and even death. Martin says, “Through Asha’s intervention with the Malnutrition Clinics, we are finding women in the slums with BMI as low as 12 and 13. Asha has begun creating the health profiles of such women, giving them Vitamin and Mineral Supplements, and an ‘Asha High-Calorie High Protein powder’ as a nutritional supplement is being distributed daily in Asha centres to promote steady weight growth in these women.” Talking about Khatoon, Martin informs that Farhat has been a regular attendee to Asha’s Supplementary Nutrition Programme since Day 1.

“She and other women like her consume the Asha High Protein Powder and Asha Laddoos that have helped them gain weight. Farhat has made a huge improvement and now weighs 35.5 kgs at a BMI of 16.7. Once a week, the women are given medicines such as Iron folic acid, B complex and Vitamin D3,” 
Asha’s Community Health Volunteers visit every home in the slum community to identify women suffering from malnutrition and anaemia.

“They are accompanied to the Asha clinic in the slum. Their BMI is measured and then they are categorised into mild, moderate and severe and supplements and medicines are provided accordingly,” she adds. Asha has been monitoring their weight and BMI. “Thankfully, all the women have gained weight (2-3kgs each) and are continuing their long road to recovery of a healthy weight,” concludes Martin.

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The New Indian Express