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Many of you may have read about the Hailakandi district’s unique initiative to fight anemia among pregnant women and children through “Gooseberry Candies”. The initiative was applauded at State and the National level to such an extent that the district was given a special award by the Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonwal during ceremonial closure of Poshan Maah. The initiative was also appreciated during the India International Science Festival at the Science City in Kolkata, held a month back.
In this story, we tried to find out what led to the discovery of Gooseberry aka ‘Amla Gur Candies’.
Hailakandi district, which is also one of India’s 117 aspirational districts, has daunting figures of 47.2 % anemic women belonging to reproductive age, making it the district with most anemic children below 5 years age, adolescents and women of reproductive age, according to the 2015 NFHS Survey. Report also reveals that out of the 70 percent rural households- 33.5% of children, under the age of five, are underweight. Mothers, pregnant women and children in the district consume only 24.3 % of the total iron-folic tablets that the district receives and distributes.
So, overall marked with poor human development indicators and health growth, the district was in need of an administrator who could find a solution to this issue in the ‘Aspirational District’.
Then came the 2013 batch IAS Officer, the first female deputy commissioner of Hailakandi, Keerthi Jalli. A president prize winner for her role as DEO, Jalli was welcomed in the district with unplanned challenges. A communal riot, one of the worst ones in recent times broke just after she took over as the head of administration. While she got the district to normalcy, she did not shy away from her responsibilities to turn around the deteriorating healthcare condition in the district, along with other many core issues. A bullet can calm a riot but there is no shortcut to health.
“A lot of individuals reported the malnourished condition of their children in the district. We used to immediately refer them to the Civil Hospital where they can take/consume more nutritious foods and health supplements. But the problem was with Iron folic tablet, which people often refused to accept,” said Jalli in an interaction with Barak Bulletin. She added, “There are some myths too for which patients prefer to stay away from consuming it. So we were looking for an alternative or some attractive food item which can compensate for anemia in the children.”
This is what led to the introduction of award-winning Amla Gur Candy / Gooseberry Candy idea.
The specialty of Amla Gur Candy
Gooseberry, locally popular as Amla, is easily available in the market is rich in Vitamin C while Gur (Jaggery) is rich in iron along with other vitamins and minerals. “This is a very traditional recipe. Every Anganwadi center participated with enthusiasm and came up with their own variations like adding ajwain, black salt, pepper, etc” she informed.
The success of Poshan Maah in Hailakandi
The DC says, all the Anganwadi Centres were activated and made to perform at their optimum level. Moreover, ECP (Extended Community Participation) and ‘Har Ghar Poshan Abhiyan’ also contributed to the success of Poshan Maah. Jalli lauded the role played by the chief minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal. “CM Sir applauded and encouraged us to expand it, and that mattered a lot,” asserted Jalli.
Other factors on which district would like to improve
She spoke about the initiatives Hailakandi administration is burning its midnight oil on and said she is very much “optimistic” that those will yield result. “Increasing students’ pass percentage, bringing more doctors in the hospital, opening waste segregation centers & plastic banks, generating awareness among the masses about child marriage and child trafficking are some of the aspects we are working on and results will speak on themselves,” she concluded.