A Silent Killer: The Growing Burden of Anemia Among Teens in India

   |  Updated: December 24, 2015 15:33 IST

A Silent Killer: The Growing Burden of Anemia Among Teens in India
According to National Family Health Survey (2005-06), about 53 per cent of girls in India suffer from anemia, a condition that affects 30 per cent of boys between the ages of 15 to 19. Given that India has the largest adolescent population in the world, about 253 million, these numbers are worrisome.

“Anemia is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin” as per WebMd.  Haemoglobin binds oxygen and the primary part of red blood cells. If your haemoglobin is low or you have fewer red blood cells, the other cells in your body will not receive the oxygen they require to function. Therefore, one of the most common symptoms of anemia is fatigue or tiredness. Among other reasons, women tend to be at a higher risk of developing anemia due to adolescent pregnancy which is common in the country.

Anemia during pregnancy due to low iron levels can increase the risk for mortality and illness for the mother as well as the new born. If you’re not getting enough iron and other nutrients, your body may not be able to produce more red blood cells it requires to make additional blood to support the child. High rates of malnutrition in most parts of the country add to this problem.
To bring the issue of anemia in the spotlight, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) along with UNICEF, has launched the Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Awareness Campaign (WIFS).  Though the programme has been running since 2012, the department is working towards creating more awareness about the same.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that the young energy is channelized in the right direction. This can only be achieved if the adolescents are physically and mentally well prepared for the future of their country” said, Shri J P Nadda, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare. He was speaking on the occasion of launching of media campaign WIFS programmne under the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) programme of the Health Ministry. He also announced that they have been providing one IFA tablet each to millions of adolescents every week to address this growing health concern. Nutrition among adolescents is one of the priority areas for concerted action under the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Kryakram.

Also present at the function was Ms. Priyanks Chopra, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador who is supporting the WIFS campaign by encouraging young adolescents to take one IFA tablet every week.  The Health Minister stated that the association of Miss Priyanka Chopra’s with this will help generate awareness about this critical issue.

Sharing her personal experience, Ms. Priyanka Chopra said that her health improved by taking iron tablet every week. “I am sure through our concerted efforts we will be able to bring down the prevalence of anemia amongst the adolescents,” she added.

Highlighting the importance of IFA in one’s diet, Shri BP Sharma, Secretary (Health) said, “The Ministry is partnering with other departments to supplement food with iron.” He further added that awareness among adolescents about anemia is low and media can play a key role in delivering healthy messages across.

The WIFS programme is implemented in both urban and rural areas for adolescent boys and girls in school; and out of school adolescent girls (both married and unmarried). The WIFS strategy involves a “fixed day’’ approach for WIFS distribution. It is recommended that Monday be the day on which all schools undertake the programme, with one additional designated day for absentees.  To ensure high compliance in IFA supplementation supervised consumption of the IFA tablets is recommended. The programme also encourages and provides for the consumption of IFA tablets by the frontline workers such as AWW, ASHA, and teachers to enhance the value of WIFS among adolescents and community members.

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The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) is responsible for policy formulation, technical support, yearly planning of the WIFS programme, including the allocation of resources for supply of IFA supplements and deworming tablets, developing resource material for awareness, establishing monitoring systems and reviewing the programme progress.

Under the WIFS programme for adolescents, IFA supplements are distributed free on a weekly basis to the target groups.  In addition to IFA supplements, Albendazole tablets for de-worming are administered twice a year, to the same target groups.


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