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Malnutrition in the villages of Chas and Chandankiari is rampant. Women and children are particularly prone to suffer from malnutrition. The National Family Health Survey – 4, 2015-16 found that only 6.7% of rural children in Jharkhand aged 6 to 23 months were receiving an adequate diet. As a result nearly 50% of rural children less than 5 years of age were found to be underweight, and 72% (6 months to 5 years) anaemic.

Jan Chetna Manch, Bokaro considers malnutrition of women – and their children – to be a problem of women’s empowerment, as much as a problem of poverty and lack of awareness. Women eat last and least, and often cannot even find the time to spend feeding their own children, let alone themselves.

Although the long term solution to this problem is to empower women to eat, and address the problem of poverty, JCMB has launched two programmes to deal with the immediate issue.

The main problem of women during pregnancy – which was the earliest activity JCMB engaged with – was food. Women’s growth during pregnancy was miserable. Though few families narrated that they deliberately ‘ate down’ during pregnancy to produce a small baby, and easier birth, women’s weights did not increase. Their diet showed that they consumed very little protein. Traditional foods were on the wane such as berries and fruits from the jungle; coarse grains and millets; hand pounded rice. ‘Modern’ diets were often bereft of protein, minerals and vitamins – especially protein.

JCMB embarked on a programme for supplementing women’s diets with roasted gram flour. Known as ‘chana sattu’, this was not a local item. It is a Bihari food, originally a poor villagers’ diet, though of late it has become too costly for them too. The advantage of this ‘chana sattu’ was that it was ready made, no food taboos were attached to it, protein-rich and tasty.

It was found that the impact of providing women with ‘chana sattu’ during pregnancy was far reaching. It encouraged prenatal visits, especially in the latter months when women were less likely to access care; it helped to improve their health and wellbeing; and it seemed to help increase the weight of newborns.

JCMB now provides ‘chana sattu’ to women during the first 3 months post partum in an effort to increase post natal care, and improve the quality of their diet. Though breastfeeding women need more calories than during pregnancy, they are invariably given less.

JCMB has also embarked on a programme to address the problem of malnutrition amongst children from 6 to 36 months. These are the years that many children become malnourished – breast milk continues for another year or so, but weaning foods are not introduced. JCMB provides a package of services to malnourished children of vulnerable families: nutritional supplements, free treatment of illnesses, counselling and information.

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