A Successful Pilot Project To Fight Malnutrition- Educated and Empowered 480+ Mothers

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Rahul and Varun Agarwal, Houston Texas

Problem

The World Bank estimates that India is one of the highest-ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition. In fact, the prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world and is nearly double that of Sub Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity, and economic growth. In fact, the 2017 Global Hunger Index Report ranked India 97th out of 118 countries with a serious hunger situation. According to FAO estimates in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2017” report, 190.7 million people are undernourished in India. By this measure, 14.5% of the population is undernourished in India, 1 in 4 children are malnourished, and 3,000 children in India die every day from poor diet-related illnesses. And even with an increase in treatment options over the past decade, only 10-15 percent of children with severe acute malnutrition are actually treated.

What did you do?

After brainstorming and researching this topic, we concluded that the best plan of execution was to create a pilot program based on a scalable and replicable model. We started reaching out to institutions that addressed malnutrition at a global level in order to receive expertise, advice, and validation and to divide the foreseeable tasks according to each team member’s strengths and capabilities. We had meetings with John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the World Bank to receive insight into our project. CU Peru - an institution we reached through cold calling - was willing to partner with us on developing a curriculum that focused on teaching mothers how to diagnose and treat malnourishment. With their assistance, we developed a curriculum tailored to India in the local Indian language. My brother, on the other hand, oriented his efforts towards bootstrapping our initiative by collecting funding and negotiating supply chains for RUTF products (short-term relief for malnourished children) and MUAC tapes (diagnostic tools) with NuFlower Factory, an organization located in New Delhi that caters to more than 250,000 acutely malnourished children annually.
 
Now the challenge was on how to execute upon it? Who will do the work on the ground in India? We started looking for organizations in India that have a wider presence on the ground and are passionate about what they are doing - anything to help broaden their efforts towards curing malnourishment. After creating a database of organizations abroad and cold calling each contact we listed, we finally received interest from the Smile Foundation - an organization largely focused on treating malnutrition and empowering women, with over 235 Mission Education Centers across 52 locations in 20 states of India, and over 23,000 Underprivileged Children. Smile Foundation agreed to partner with the “Do Your Bit” foundation to address this issue directly. We narrowed down the pilot project’s focus to 12 villages in Uttar Pradesh in North India, where our curriculum and diagnostic tools would be introduced to mothers and local health workers through Smile Foundation volunteers in order to broaden our reach. 
 

Impact

The pilot program started in July 2018. Now, over 480 mothers and health care workers are being trained under our program. RUTF products have also been distributed to the families in case of severe malnutrition. In our recent trip to India - to bookmark our progress - we found that the pilot program has been well received by the people, especially women in the villages. Malnutrition incidences in these villages have dropped to less than 5% compared to 48% earlier.

We now plan to take this effort to over 100 more villages in 2018.
 
As high school students juggling several responsibilities, the resources at our disposal are not enough to meet the magnitude of this dilemma - 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life, and roughly 196 million of those are concentrated in India. Operating in Houston, Texas soon proved to be challenging in regard to organizing and monitoring human resources abroad. Ultimately, connectivity issues, coupled with school responsibilities, gradually inhibited the growth of this project. However, as we have soon come to understand, perseverance is one’s greatest friend in any endeavor they might pursue.