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Severe anaemia: Progress made

Anaemia is one of the major health issues facing Indian women.

Severe anaemia is one of India’s biggest public challenges, particularly when it comes to the welfare of women.

The overall prevalence for anaemia in India is estimated to be 39.86 percent, with women in the 15-49 age demographic particularly vulnerable. A 2017 study revealed 51 percent of women in this bracket to be anaemic in India – more than any other country in the world. In fact, India actually shoulders the world’s largest burden of anaemia overall. Concerningly, progress in the fight against anaemia seems to be limited.

Between the 2005-06 and 2015-16 periods, the prevalence of iron-deficiency anaemia in India decreased by a mere 3.5 percentage points for women aged 15-49. The limited progress against the condition leads to a number of public health complications – not least the fact that anaemia is responsible for between twenty and forty percent of maternal deaths in India.

Figures could be even higher than we presently understand. According to some researchers, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) utilises methods in estimating anaemia rates in India which could overstate or understate haemoglobin levels.

Anaemia is evidently a public health issue of continuing and significant concern. Despite this, there is some encouraging news from some states. According to the Health Management Information System of India, cases of severe anaemia – denoting a haemoglobin level beneath seven – have decreased by 7.8 percent in the space of a decade.

Prevalence of severe anaemia stood at 11.3 percent in the 2008-09 period, compared to 3.29 percent in 2017-18. Some states continue to record high prevalences of anaemia compared to the national average. High rates of severe anaemia can be found in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where prevalences of the condition are six to eight and eight to ten percent respectively. In states such as Kerala and Goa, on the other hand, prevalence of severe anaemia sits at below two percent.

This is encouraging news, but it cannot engender complacency in the fight against anaemia. Ensuring sufficient access to nutritional services and education for vulnerable groups are vital in combating the condition. Screening programs are also necessary to ensure that the total burden of anaemia is correctly appraised and those in need can avail the treatment and guidance needed.

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