Anganwadi: A support to preventive Healthcare : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-2: Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

Key phrases: Anganwadi, ICDS, PHCs, nutrition, education, child care, Immunization.

Why in News?

  • For the past 47 days, thousands of anganwadi workers and helpers are on strike in Haryana, demanding an increase in their honorarium. Battling the cold wave, the anganwadi workers are carrying on with the protest despite some announcements by the state government to pacify them.

Who are Anganwadis workers?

  • Anganwadi is a government-sponsored child-care and mother-care development programmes in India at the village level.
  • The meaning of the word ‘Anganwadi’ in the English language is “courtyard shelter”
  • It primarily caters to children in the 0-6 age group.
  • They were started by the Indian government in 1975 as part of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program to combat child hunger and malnutrition.
  • An Anganwadi centre provides basic health care facilities in Indian villages. It is a part of the Indian public health-care system.

Integrated Child Development Services

  • Launched on 2nd October, 1975, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is the only major national program that addresses the needs of children under the age of six years.
  • It seeks to provide young children with an integrated package of services such as supplementary nutrition, health care and pre-school education.
  • Because the health and nutrition needs of a child cannot be addressed in isolation from those of his or her mother, the program also extends to adolescent girls, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Current Issue of Anganwadi in Haryana :

  • Along with the Centre’s share, the Haryana government is giving Rs 11,811 to anganwadi workers and Rs 6,045 to helpers as monthly honorarium.
  • The agitators say this honorarium is meagre, lower than the salary of contractual unskilled workers (Rs 14,330-17,520) as announced by the state government recently. The strike has been launched to demand implementation of an announcement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September 2018, to increase the monthly honorarium by Rs 1,500 for anganwadi workers and Rs 700 for anganwadi helpers.
  • The protesters are also demanding DA (dearness allowance) on a regular basis on the pattern of government employees.
  • The state says anganwadi workers are not government employees but workers engaged under the ICDS scheme, and hence entitled only to an honorarium. The government also says their honorarium is highest in north India.

Importance of Anganwadi in India:

  • Providing affordable and accessible healthcare: Through the Anganwadi system, the country is trying to meet its goal of providing affordable and accessible healthcare to local populations. Today in India, about 2 million anganwadi workers are reaching out to a population of 70 million women, children and sick people, helping them become and stay healthy. Anganwadi workers are the most important and soft-ignored essential link of Indian healthcare.
  • Local Connect & Community Mobilisation: Anganwadi workers have the advantage over the physicians living in the same rural area, which gives them insight into the state of health in the locality and assists in identifying the cause of problems and in countering them.
  • Eradicating Malnourishment: One-third of the world’s stunted children live in India. This is the highest number in the world. Anganwadis are integral for the success of ICDS programme that caters to the nutrition, health and pre-education needs of children till six years of age as well as the health and nutrition of women and adolescent girls.
  • Ensuring Access to Government Programmes: Anganwadi workers are India’s primary tool against the menace of child malnourishment, infant mortality, and lack of child education, community health problems and in curbing preventable diseases. These community health workers have been point-persons for rural communities to access key health services and benefits.
  • With little training and immense risk, they went to households to spread awareness on COVID-19 as well as carry out tasks like contract tracing.

Problems faced by Anganwadi:

  • Lack of Education and Training: Most anganwadi workers are not well-literate and their skill is limited. They find it is easier to keep track of a child’s growth by weighing them rather than following other measurements. NITI Aayog also suggested that these centres be provided with the required number of workers, whose skills should be upgraded through regular training.
  • Demotivating Service Conditions: Lack of further career prospects and adequate service conditions of frontline workers in Anganwadi Centres such as anganwadi workers (AWWs), ASHAs and ANMs. The officers and their helpers who staff Anganwadis are typically women from poor families. The workers do not have permanent jobs with comprehensive retirement benefits like other government staff. A few months into the pandemic, ASHAs and AWWs across Indian states staged protests when they did not receive months’ worth of wages since the lockdown.
  • Lack of basic Facilities: Nearly a half of the operational AWCs lack drinking water facilities and 36 per cent do not have toilets. In 2015, the NITI Aayog recommended better sanitation and drinking water facilities, improved power supply and basic medicines for the AWCs.
  • Insufficient Learning Environment: AWCs do not seem to provide the environment that encourages parents to leave children at these centres. Only a limited number of AWCs have facilities like creche, and good quality recreational and learning facilities for pre-school education.
  • Lack of proper wages and incentives.

Way Forward:

  • The Central government’s POSHAN Abhiyaan has taken important steps towards building capacities of AWWs. It is important that a more robust mechanism is now created to regularly assess and plug knowledge gaps.
  • The economic fallout of COVID-19 makes the necessity of quality public welfare services more pressing than ever. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme that caters to the nutrition, health and pre-education needs of children till six years of age as well as the health and nutrition of women and adolescent girls is one such scheme.
  • Anganwadi centres (AWCs) could become agents of improved delivery of ICDS’s services. But for that, they need to be recast in a new avatar.
  • Across the world, community health workers are the key instruments for improving the health of the rural poor. So there is a need to solve the issue of aganwadi worker as soon as possible.

Source: Indian Express

Mains Question:

Q. “In India, the anganwadi system serves as the backbone of the country’s fight against under nutrition - and now against COVID-19”. Critically analyse with suitable example.

Q. Discuss the role of Anganwadi in reducing malnutrition, promoting health in young children, pregnant and lactating mothers. Critically analyse with suitable example.