Dakshina Kannada

Iron tablets to empower adolescent school children

Karnataka recently launched the health program: Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) for adolescents

ENARADA, Mangalore

By C D Dsouza

The central government has recently launched its pilot project – Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) for adolescents in Karnataka.

The objective of this project is to reduce the prevalence of anemia among adolescents.

As per this scheme school children including school dropouts between the ages of 10-19, said to be the vulnerable group for anemia, will be provided with iron and folic acid tablets free of cost every week through the schools and anganawadis.

This scheme of the central government implemented under National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) comes at an opportune time as the UNICEF in its recent report pointed out that nearly 30% boys and 56% girls in the age group of 12-19 in India suffer from iron deficiency anemia.

Interestingly Karnataka is the first state in the country to launch this programme and union minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad launched the programme in Bangalore on July 17, 2013.

We in India are multiplying rapidly and as if to defend our growing population we claim that our population is our resource or strength.  When it comes to the quality of our population, the scenario is quite dismal as nearly half of its adolescent population suffers from anemia.

The government has woken up to address the issue and WIFS is a right step in this direction. With the introduction of this scheme it is expected that the prevalence of anemia will be reduced in the state and then in the country as a whole.

Though the basic objective of this scheme is to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition, which is one of the causes for anemia, there are many a doubting Thomas’s who question the efficacy iron tablets as the solution to the prevalence of chronic anemia.

There are a few cynics who argue that it is a tactical move by the government to appease pharmaceutical companies.  They also believe that providing leafy green vegetables through mid-day meals would have been a better alternative.

There are anxious parents who are cynical about the scheme as they are concerned  about the for the health of their children following the incident of girls in  Delhi government school  falling ill after consuming iron pills supplied to them under the new scheme recently.

Just a day before this incident a child had died and about 20 children fell ill in an Anganwadi school in Bihar after consuming vitamin A tablets given to them.  Therefore, there is a kind of fear lurking at both the parents and the students about the free tablets provided by the government.  There is a need to educate both parents and students about the goodness of the iron tablets and its need.

Paediatrician Dr Shantharam Baliga however asserts that providing iron supplements in the form of tablets is the best solution to eradicate or reduce the severity of anemia.

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“83% of our children suffer from anemia and providing them with weekly doze of 150 mgs for 52 weeks is the prophylactic preventive dose.  Tablets are better as compared to leafy green vegetables because tablets are the cheapest source of iron.  It cannot be said that government has succumbed to the pharma lobby because profit margin in these tablets is very less and these tablets can be supplied through government- run companies” Baliga said.

In India poor diet worm infection and high rate of infection and growth spurt during adolescence which calls increase in demand in iron are the main causes of anemia.

Anemia is caused when red blood cells in the blood are low and more than 50% of our population is suffering from anemia. The government is focusing on adolescents because a vast majority of girls suffering from anemia due to early marriages and early pregnancies.

UNICEF report says 58% women in India are married off before the age of 18 and 16% women are pregnant in the age group of 15 to 19.

Dietician Sanjana, who works as a dietician at Yenepoya Hospital says that the daily requirements of iron are 30 to 35 mgs and anything extra will be automatically flushed out.  She says “during the growth spurt boys and girls require more dose of iron.  If they take enough iron when they are in their teens there would be enough store of iron of adulthood.  Iron tablets would help overcome the problem of anemia among six crore adolescents in our country”.

As per the scheme the tablet will be given to the students for a year.  As the government has done extensive research before launching the project, the scheme goes a long way in keeping our adolescents healthy and productive.   This in turn would improve the quality of our population and then we can proudly claim that our population is our strength.  Being a pilot state of the project it is the responsibility of the state government to ensure that the scheme is implemented judiciously.

(Posted on July 21, 2013 @ 11pm)

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