In a move slated to have extensive impact on the nutritional status of children in Bihar, the State Government launched a new phase of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Programme at a two-day workshop that commenced on March 25, 2008 in Patna. ICDS was launched in India in 1975 and is today one of the world’s largest child welfare programmes providing pre-school education on one hand and reducing malnutrition, morbidity, and mortality, on the other. The workshop’s objective was to prepare the Project Implementation Plan for the implementation of the new Programme.
Termed as ‘ICDS-IV’, this new phase of the Programme aims to strengthen and improve its efficacy by enhanced targeting in districts with high child malnutrition. The rationale for the changed Programme is to improve the outreach and quality of service delivery, strengthen institutional framework and need-based training of ICDS functionaries, and ensure increased involvement of local communities as key stakeholders.
The inauguration of the two-day workshop was attended by Mr. Vijoy Prakash, Principal Secretary, Department of Social Welfare, Government of Bihar, Mr. K. Rajeswara Rao, Project Director, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Mr. Udai Singh Kumawat, Project Director, ICDS-Bihar and representatives from the World Bank and UNICEF.
Outlining the nationwide initiative, Mr. K. Rajeswara Rao remarked, “With the initiation of the planning process today, Bihar has become one of the eight states in the country where Phase IV of ICDS will be implemented over the next five years. Besides Bihar, the other states are Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.”
Speaking at the inauguration, Mr. Vijoy Prakash announced that 19 districts in Bihar had been selected for the implementation of ICDS-IV. He also stated that the UNICEF-initiated Dular strategy will be scaled up across the State and will complement the ICDS Programme.
Elaborating on the status of child malnutrition in Bihar, Mr. Bijaya Rajbhandari, State Representative, UNICEF emphasised, “Bihar has the third highest number of malnourished children in India. In Bihar, the percentage of underweight children went up from 54.3 per cent to 58.4 per cent between the period 1999 and 2005. It is estimated that 8.33 per cent or 9,74,610 children in Bihar are severely and acutely malnourished and are at the highest risk of dying. However, we know what works. We are hopeful that ICDS-IV will help accelerate the State’s efforts to reduce malnutrition rates.”
The strategies proposed under ICDS-IV are expected to contribute towards India’s progress on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that include the nutrition goal of halving underweight rates from 54 per cent to 27 per cent between the period 1990 and 2015.
This will accelerate India’s advance on realising the MDG of universal primary education and the Education for All that aims to expand and improve comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children, thereby reducing infant and child mortality, and consequently improving maternal health outcomes.
ICDS-IV will help to significantly expand utilisation of nutrition services with increased awareness and adoption of appropriate feeding and caring behaviour by parents of children less than three years. This is also expected to enhance the overall nutritional status of children and improve early child development outcomes, in addition to school readiness among three to six year old children in selected high burden districts and states. Special focus on the girl child and children from disadvantaged sections is also envisioned.