New Delhi: Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra, who is also UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador emphasised the importance of stepping up the fight against adolescent anaemia, regarded as a major health problem among adolescents in developing countries including India.

On the occasion of World Youth Day, celebrated on August 12 every year, the actress stressed the need to create awareness about anaemia among adolescents, adding that one out of two young girls and one out of three young boys in India are anaemic.

“Anaemia is a serious health problem not only in rural but also in the urban areas. Anaemia can be prevented by taking iron-rich diet, Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) tablets once a week and deworming tablets every six months. It is really that simple,” Priyanka said addressing the youth from across the county, in a short film released Wednesday to mark the World Youth Day.

The film highlights the importance of the Government of India’s Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) programme for adolescents. The programme was launched in 2012 to reduce severity and prevalence of nutritional anaemia in adolescents between 15 and 19 years.

As many as 56 percent girls and 30 percent boys in this age group in India are anaemic, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 3 data. This group comprises one-fourth of India’s population and is a key driver of its future economic growth.

Dr Sushma Dureja, Deputy Commissioner, Adolescent Health said, “The target for WIFS programme are adolescent girls and boys in government, government aided and municipal schools, between classes 6 and 12 along with out of school adolescent girls . The aim is to improve the iron stores in the adolescent population thereby addressing the problem of anaemia caused by nutritional deficiency.”

The WIFS programme, which also covers out-of-school adolescent girls through Anganwadi centers, uses a proven and highly effective solution of providing (free of cost) weekly supplementation of deworming tablets, along with screening and counselling services.

The programme has four components namely, supervised ingestion of weekly iron and folic acid tablet, screening for moderate or severe anaemia and referral to nearest health facility, deworming treatment every six months and nutrition and health education to encourage consumption of locally available iron-rich food and preventing parasitic infections.

Research shows that after the first year of life, adolescence is the second highest growth spurt period. Adolescents, if given the right nutrition, gain up to 50 per cent of their adult weight, more than 20 percent of their adult height, and 50 percent of their adult bone mass during this period.

Lack of iron in diets, perpetuates the inter-generational cycle of anaemia whereby anaemic women give birth to children with low body iron stores, resulting in irreversible consequences on children’s health and development.

Worldwide, it is estimated that about 20 percent of maternal deaths are caused by anaemia; in addition, anaemia contributes partly to 50 percent of all maternal deaths.

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