How effective will the move of fortifying Rice with Iron in reducing the incidence of Anaemia?

Is it a move to help a few private players earn big bucks?

Anaemia is rampant in India and according to certain estimates, 50% of Indian kids and women suffer from Anaemia. Therefore the Indian Health Ministry is contemplating fortifying the rice sold in India with Iron. On the surface, it looks like a very noble initiative but when you delve deeper, you can understand how the whole scheme is being pushed to benefit a few private players.

Anaemia is caused by a number of factors and Iron deficiency is just one of the many reasons. Anaemia could be caused due to deficiency of Folic Acid, inability to assimilate iron etc. Iron capsules must be taken empty stomach or else their absorption is hampered. The source of Iron is also important. Organic Iron is absorbed better as compared to organic Iron.

The process to fortify Rice with iron is also a long and tedious process. The Rice has to be powdered and the Iron compound missed in the right proportion and then the rice grain has to be prefabricated so that it is mixed with plain rice. The fortified rice must look just like the ordinary rice grain.  

The National Health Service has said that an anaemic person needs to take 210-420 milligrams of Iron daily. The Rice fortified Iron will provide just a tiny fraction of this requirement i.e.  28-42.5 mg which is insufficient to treat anaemia.

The Food Secretary of the Indian Government revealed that a pilot project was run in 15 districts where the fortified rice was supplied through the public distribution system.  The result of the project was disastrous. The project could be started in 11 districts only and there were innumerable teething problems.  The Rice mixing plant was not working satisfactorily. The mixing process was not done scientifically and there was no arrangement to check if the final product was as per the prescribed guidelines.

The whole process involved private players and they had their own commercial interests. There was no procedure to oversee if everything was done as per prescribed protocols. In spite of all the problems, the government is going ahead with the project on a large scale.

It can be best described as another supposedly noble step that will benefit a few private players. Already anganwadis and health workers are on the ground who routinely check pregnant women as well as children for any sign of anaemia and if required distribute Iron and Folic acid tablets. There is no need to go for such unscientific projects which uses people as guinea pigs to benefit a few private players.

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