Rural Indian Culture and Anemia Among Women and Children

Rural India has long been one of the nations that are ravaged by a lack of resources. There are currently an estimated sixty percent of rural people, especially women and children, suffering from anemia (4). Protein deficiency, most often caused by economical factors, is a leading cause of anemia, but there are also other cultural factors that play a role in the development of the condition.

The caste system of India is one of the largest cultural factors that limit the availability of new resources to those who live in absolute poverty. Women and children are particularly prone to becoming anemic (1). Women have a lower status in the household, and are typically not assigned a status without a husband. Poor women, and their children, are affected by both the macro and micro socio-cultural traditions that place them at a significant risk for developing, and retaining, nutritional disorders. The foods that are often served in homes with a low economic status also affect the development of anemia (1).

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The caste system has been officially outlawed in India, but is still one of the most culturally influential statues that a person has. Marrying outside your caste is prohibited, and ideas of caring for the sick are uncommon (5). Ideas such as karma are often the focus of Indian culture, leaving those who have less than needed amounts of food to suffer on their own.

Children in India are introduced to foods around the age of six months, in a ceremony that marks their passage from being exclusively breastfed. The tradition is one that is a mixed blessing for most Indian mothers, who now need to supply their children with an outside source of nutrition. Breastfeeding is continued well into the second year of life, and is based on the child’s needs rather than a schedule of feedings. This practice does help prevent anemia in babies and toddlers, but can perpetuate anemia in mothers.

While babies under two are breastfed, older children have a limited diet that consists largely of carbohydrate based foods. Rice has been a staple of Indian cuisine for centuries, but does nothing to help eliminate anemia. Green vegetables and fruits such as oranges, which assist in the absorption of iron, are not often available among the poorer segments of the Indian population. A recent change in the healthcare system has allowed Indian women and children access to iron tablets, however.

The Reproductive and Child Health Program in India provides iron and folic acid supplements to lower status women who are lactating, or who are breastfeeding and to children under the age of five (3). The program also offers nutritional supplements, both in the form of food and liquid vitamins and minerals, to children and pregnant women across the country (3). The program was initiated in 2006, and has been introduced in all of the states in India (3).

While this program does work for some, those who live in the most isolated villages in India are left without access to free anemia fighting foods and supplements. As a country with a massive population and an unequal distribution of the resources that are available, India is lacking in enough funds to adequately supplement the diets of the nation’s poorest people (2). Other measures, such as health care, must also be addressed for the overall health of Indian women and children.

Sources:

Airhihenbuwa, C.O. (1995). Health and culture: Beyond the Western Paradigm. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.
Airhihenbuwa, C.O., & Webster, J.D. (2004). Culture and African contexts of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support. Journal of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance, 1(1), 4-13. Retrieved February 12, 2008, from http://www.sahara.org.za/index.php/View-category/SAHARA-J-Vol.-1-No.-1-May-2004/
Bentley, M.E and P.L. Griffiths. 2003. The Burden of Anemia Among Women in India. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 57: 52-60.
Duggal, Ravi. India’s Family Welfare in the Context of a Reproductive and Child Health Approach. http://www.cehat.org/publications/aa07a60.html
iGovernment Bureau. 2008. Over 69% Indian Children Suffer From Anemia. http://www.igovernment.in/site/over-69-indian-children-suffer-from-anemia/
Madhusnata De, Ajanta Halder, Sandeep Podder, Rinni Sen,
Shila Chakrabarty, Bani Sengupta, Tulika Chakraborty,
Urmisha Das, & GeetaTalukder 2006. Anemia and Hemoglobinpathies in Tribal Population of Eastern and North-eastern India. Hematology. Vol. 11 (5/6): 371-373 Shah, Dr. Vinod. Religious and Cultural Determinants of Health Care: A Qualitative Study from India. 2005. Systems Development: Presented at Faith Based Organizations as Pioneers and Partners in Health. Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC.

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