Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh says malnutrition in children is one of India's biggest challenges.
Addressing the nation on the occasion of the country's 65th Independence Day from the ramparts of the historic 17th century-built Red Fort, Dr. Singh said: "Malnutrition in children is a big challenge for us. We have taken steps in many dimensions to deal with this problem."
He added: "In the last eight years, the number of mothers and children benefitting from the ICDS has doubled. The process of making the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) more effective is in its last stages and will be completed in the next one to two months."
He also said that it was a matter of pride and satisfaction that the government's mid-day-meal scheme provides nutritious meals in schools for about 12 crore children everyday, and described it as the biggest scheme of its kind in the world.
It was also a matter of satisfaction to note that in the last one and half years, no new case of polio has come to light, and now India does not figure in the list of countries affected by this disease, Dr. Singh said.
Commenting on the achievements of the National Rural Health Mission, which the UPA regime had launched in 2005, Dr. Singh said the government would continue to endeavour to extend health services to each and every village in the country.
"Today, this mission is being implemented with the help of 10 lakh health personnel, including 8.5 lakh Asha workers. After the success of the National Rural Health Mission, we now want to expand the scope of health services in our towns also. The National Rural Health Mission will be converted into a National Health Mission which would cover all villages and towns in the country. We are also formulating a scheme for distribution of free medicines through government hospitals and health centres," Dr. Singh said.
The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is a government sponsored programme, and is India's primary social welfare scheme to tackle malnutrition and health problems in children below six years of age and their mothers.
The main beneficiaries of the programme were aimed to be the girl child up to her adolescence, all children below six years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers.
The gender promotion of the girl child by trying to bring her at par with the male child is a key component of the scheme.
A majority of children in India have underprivileged childhoods starting from birth. The infant mortality rate of Indian children is 47 and the under-five mortality rate is 93. Twenty-five percent of newborn children are underweight among other nutritional, immunization and educational deficiencies of children in India. Figures for India are substantially worse than the developing country average.
National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) is a program for improving health care delivery across rural India.
The mission, initially mooted for 7 years (2005-2012), is run by the Ministry of Health.
The scheme proposes a number of new mechanisms for healthcare delivery including training local residents as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), and the Janani Surakshay Yojana (motherhood protection program). It also aims at improving hygiene and sanitation infrastructure.
Noted economists Ajay Mahal and Bibek Debroy have called it "the most ambitious rural health initiative ever".
The mission has a special focus on 18 states Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Orissa, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarkhand and Uttar Pradesh.