Malnutrition during COVID-19: Women in slums are the silent sufferers

The global pandemic has resulted into an unprecedented health crisis. Women and children, from lower income groups and slum areas, are the most severely hit. Particularly, COVID-19 is having serious consequences on the nutrition of women in slum communities. Tragically, the pandemic has created a mass of severely malnourished women in Delhi slums. This is a direct consequence of lack of daily caloric consumption coupled with women always eating last after feeding the entire family.

Women in the slums usually fall behind men in having access to food. Female illiteracy, poverty, and lack of empowerment are the major causes of malnutrition in women and adolescent girls. They have weaker control over the household resources, tighter time constraints, heavy work burdens, lack of attention, poorer mental health, and lower self-esteem. The most widespread forms of micronutrient malnutrition are Iron, Vitamin A, Zinc, and Iodine deficiencies.

To combat the issue of malnutrition, Asha Community Health and Development Society, a not-for-profit organisation has launched a ‘Malnutrition Clinic’ for women aged between 15-49 years. ASHA’s intervention covers 95 slums within Delhi from the centres at Dr Ambedkar Colony, Kanak Durga Camp, Ekta Vihar, Tigri, Kalkaji, Chanderpuri, Seelampur, Mayapuri, Zakhira, Anna Nagar and Jeewan Nagar.

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the food insecurity levels many fold, hundreds of women and adolescent girls have fallen into severe malnutrition. Let us all think of these women who are suffering from severe thinness and help them get to a normal weight by providing them with all the dietary support and medical help they need, including the critical element of emotional support.

Dr. Kiran Martin, founder

During the last 3-months, they have identified several acutely malnourished women with BMI as low as 12 and 13 in various slum areas. A BMI of less than 16 indicates ‘severe thinness’ and is known to be associated with a markedly increased risk for ill health, poor physical performance, lethargy, and even death. Severe thinness is accompanied by significant protein and vitamin deficiencies and frequently accompanied by constant appetite loss. 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.

Women in the slums have been visiting the Asha centres every day for their daily supplement for the past 3 months. Along with providing nutritional supplements and other micronutrients, these women are also provided with dietary advice that helps them gain weight. During this time, Asha has been monitoring their weight and BMI regularly. It has been noticed that, all such women have significantly gained weight (2-3 kgs each) and are continuing their long road to recovery of a healthy weight.

On an average 10-20 patients visit the clinic per day, and approximately 400 patients per month. About 1200 patient visited each Asha clinic during the last three months, after observing adequate precautions and SOPs against Covid-19 at each ASHA clinic.

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