Decreasing hunger, increasing health: Promoting awareness and accessibility to food and care

It is common knowledge that food grains rot and waste in government warehouses while millions of Indians starve or subsist on extremely little. This directly impacts their physical, mental and emotional health and very often their survival. Further, due to the rampant corruption in the public distribution system (PDS), the economically marginalized barely get their due from the 'fair' price shops. The integrated child development scheme (ICDS), anganwaadis, balwadis and government schools which are supposed to provide nourishment along with education, child and health care, are gradually heading the same way. Read more

Many non-governmental, not for profit institutions like the Ramakrishna Mission, Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa and organizations such as the Aashayein Foundation play a stellar role in reducing the number of the famished. Although some of these and others like the Belaku Trust also provide basic health care through free or low cost guidance, clinics, doctors and medicines they are not substitutes for the state. However, the latter is conveniently relinquishing its responsibility to them, although the non-profits simply cannot match the scale of the government.

While there are some non-governmental, not for profit institutions focussing on feeding, treating and guiding the poor, others like the Community Health Cell (CHC) go a step forward. A functional unit of the Society for Community Health Awareness, Research and Action (SOCHARA) the CHC conducts periodic advocacy and training programmes on the connection between food, health and overall well being. It also contributes to framing and critiquing policy and monitoring and reporting on implementation. The CHC has been actively involved in the initiatives of the Jana Arogya Andolana, Karnataka (JAAK), the state affiliate of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a member of the global People's Health Movement (PHM) in India. With the conviction that the right to health is a human right, the JAAK, a forum of various NGO's, CBO's, groups and individuals working to strengthen the health sector in the state, initiated a movement in 2004 to “REVITALIZE PRIMARY HEALTH CARE IN KARNATAKA”. As part of this, the Andolana monitored the health systems in the districts, identified problems and gaps in them, brought it to the notice of the government and built pressure to ensure that the relevant departments took appropriate action to deal with the issues. In early 2008, the JAAK also drafted the Karnataka State Health Policy Brief, a short paper that conveyed urgent health policy concerns in the state and demanded courses of action to resolve them.

In addition to the above, the CHC has also been offering various training courses on public health, health and human rights, women's health empowerment and nutrition, life skills education et al in English and Kannada. These are open to graduates in medicine and allied disciplines, social science students as well as social and community health workers, activists, marginalized women and youth. The objective of these programmes is to create an awareness of the rights and entitlements of poor and socially excluded people specifically in rural and semi urban locations, with regard to food, water, community health and sanitation and the challenges in accessing these fundamental necessities.

Here is an extract from the reflections (obtained from the May 2010 CHLP newsletter on the SOCHARA website) of Malvika Thirukode, an intern with the 2009-2010 batch of CHC's Community Health and Learning Programme (CHLP). "Meeting with professionals and volunteers working with marginalised groups such as migrant workers, I realised their lack of identity. I also began to take notice of the sights and sounds of Bangalore city less heard and seen. Towards the last few weeks we worked towards raising awareness on the 'Right to Food' bill on Independence Day. Talking to the youth about the issue and interactions with activists were valuable insights into the shaping of movements, the importance of national policy and the role of people led groups in bringing to notice the need to look into issues in its totality.”

If Food Security and Health for All are to become a reality, any number of legislations, schemes and policies will not suffice. There must be concerted and relentless will and effort to ensure that these prerogatives reach those regularly denied them, whether in the remotest regions or the largest metropolises. After all, one may not live to eat but one must eat to live!


Pushpa Achanta
(The author is a freelance writer, a Fellow of Citizen News Service (CNS) Writers' Bureau, and a community volunteer based in Bangalore, India)

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