Lucknow/Sitapur: Fifteen-year-old Rajni will be appearing for her board examinations this year. She studies at the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyalaya (KGBV), in Misrikh block in Sitapur district, Uttar Pradesh, about 90 kilometers from the state headquarters.
Rajni had been getting her iron and folic acid supplement tablets from her school ever since she hit puberty, as part of the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram by the Women and Child Development Board. However, since the lockdown to contain COVID-19 came into force, she has not received her tablets.
Speaking on the phone with this reporter on a conference call with her school counsellor, Rajni said: “Sir, the school was closed in February. We had holidays in January and the last dose we received was in the month of December. I did not make much of it initially but I read in a science chapter that girls easily become anemic, so it is necessary for us to have iron doses. I asked my counselor Madhuri and she said we can collect the iron tablets from the CHC (Community Health Center) but it is over seven kilometers from my house.”
The girl told NewsClick that she received four tablets of iron and folic acid through the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) who visited her village (Pisawa) for a delivery.
Schools and colleges across the country, including Uttar Pradesh, have been ordered to remain shut until further orders in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, adolescent girls have been deprived of their additional food supplements which were fulfilling their nutritional needs.
Rajni, the daughter of a daily-wage labourer said her father has not been getting work regularly. “The only work he gets is through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). As a result, it is almost impossible to get a balanced diet. We are surviving on ration given by the government; green vegetables are a dream for us.” Shockingly, Rajni claimed that she has not eaten a proper meal even since the school was closed.
It worth noting that a school-going girl passed away in the Bahraich district of Uttar Pradesh before the lockdown. According to a report by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, over 53% percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years were found to be anemic. School-going teenage girls receive iron and folic acid tablets every Monday alongside the midday meal in the school. According to the fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS), 40.8% of the total number of cases in UP were of minor anemia, 12% were medium and 0.9% had chronic anemia.
Shristi is one among 1.2 crore teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh who have not received this nutritional supplement for the last four months.
Kumari Madhuri, who works at an NGO in Sitapur, expressed her concern: “It has been more than four months that these girls have not received their weekly dose of iron and folic acid. Although the government has said that these tablets can be avalied through the ANMs and from local healthcare centres, COVID-19 has made things very difficult for all of us.”
“Children who study in state-run schools are mostly from lower economic backgrounds and for such families, managing two square meals a day is a challenge. They cannot afford to feed green vegetables and a balanced diet to their daughters,” she added.
However, Reena Singh (name changed on request) an ANM from Para, in the outskirts of Lucknow, said they have been providing iron and folic acid tablets not regularly.
“We are overburdened with work. We have to work on the COVID-19 front, get deliveries done, counsel and distribute medicines. We are at risk of contracting the virus and whenever we go out we keep supplements with us. It is risky for ANMs to go to each house, enquire about adolescent girls, and give them tablets because we do not know which house has the virus,” she said.
Indu Singh, the Principal of Government Girls Inter College, Civil Lines, in Prayagraj district of Uttar Pradesh said: “The scheme for providing girls with iron supplements has been very useful in fighting anemia and girls are in a better condition now. If they are not getting their additional nutritional supplements due to the closure of schools it must really be taking a toll on their health,” she said.
Manoj Shukla, the Director of Kishor Swasthya Karyakram in Uttar Pradesh, was asked about this. “We have found an alternative – providing iron supplement tablets to these girls via Anganwadi centres and through midwives every Wednesday and Friday,” he said.
“We started this about a month ago and yes, the girls did not get iron supplements for about three months. Since this is an additional nutritional supplement so I do not think it should have affected their health,” Shukla told NewsClick over the phone.