Anemia Prevalence in North-East India

Anemia Prevalence in North-East India

Anemia is a serious global public health problem that particularly affects young children, menstruating adolescent girls and women, and pregnant and postpartum women. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 40% of children 6–59 months of age, 37% of pregnant women, and 30% of women 15–49 years of age worldwide are anemic. 


A major global public health concern is anemia, a disorder marked by a lack of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood. Anemia is very common in India, especially in vulnerable populations including children, pregnant women, and fertile women. Comprehending the disparities in anemia prevalence across different regions is essential for creating focused strategies that effectively tackle this problem. 

The North-East of India stands out as a focus point for anemia prevalence. According to data from the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5), which is done periodically to evaluate persons across India's health and nutritional status. Concerning facts about anemia rates among different demographic categories in the Northeastern states may be found in the NFHS data. For example, the rate of anemia in children aged 6-59 months in Arunachal Pradesh is 56.2%, but the rate among pregnant women in Assam is 54.2%. These numbers highlight the critical need to investigate the underlying causes of anemia in North-East India and develop focused treatment plans to address this widespread health problem. 


Data Analysis: 

Understanding the scope of the anemia issue in North-East India is made possible by the analysis of the NFHS data. The complicated character of this health risk is highlighted by the differing prevalence rates across different demographic groups in states like Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. Pregnant women in Meghalaya have a higher prevalence rate of anemia (45%), despite the state reporting a significantly lower prevalence of 44.3% among children aged 6-59 months. In a similar vein, Nagaland presents a worrisome difference, with pregnant women's anemia rates substantially lower than the national norm at 22.2%. These disparate patterns call for a sophisticated strategy to treat anemia that is adapted to the unique requirements of every demographic and region. 


Factors Contributing to Anemia:

Anemia is a common condition in North-East India. Many factors contribute to anemia in this region. One of the most important factors is dietary habits. Conventional diets are often low in iron, folate, and vitamin B12, which are essential nutrients. Another factor that increases the risk of anemia in North East India is socioeconomic factors such as poverty, lack of access to healthcare, and poor hygiene. Cultural norms and attitudes about prohibited foods and dietary restrictions can also make it difficult to treat anemia. Therefore, designing holistic treatments to improve nutritional status and reduce anemia in the region requires understanding these complex variables. 

Here is a closer look at the contributing factors: 

Dietary Deficiencies: 

Iron deficiency: This is the primary cause of anemia in the region. A study published in the Journal of Biosocial Science 2020 found a link between low vegetable consumption and anemia in women of reproductive age. Limited intake of iron-rich foods like red meat, poultry, and legumes contributes to this deficiency. 

Vitamin B12 and Folate Deficiency: Deficiencies in vitamin B12, folate, and vitamin A can also contribute to anemia. These vitamins are crucial for red blood cell production and function. 

Socioeconomic Factors: 

Poverty and low income: Studies on “Identifying Predictors of Childhood Anaemia in North-East India 2016” link poverty to a higher risk of anemia, especially in children. This limits access to diverse and nutritious foods. 

Rural residence: Research suggests a higher prevalence of anemia in rural areas compared to urban areas. This may be due to limited access to healthcare facilities, nutritional education, and diversified food sources. 

Low maternal education: A study published in Cambridge University Press ([Prevalence and factors associated with Anaemia in Married Women of Reproductive age group: Evidence from North East India] - 2020) found a correlation between mothers with no education and a higher risk of anemia in their children. Education empowers women to make informed dietary choices. 

Health and Hygiene: 

Parasitic infections: Intestinal parasitic infections, prevalent in some areas of Northeast India, can lead to blood loss and contribute to anemia. Hookworm is a parasitic intestinal worm that infects the small intestine and feeds on blood, leading to iron deficiency. 

Malaria: A common infectious disease in Northeast India, malaria can cause hemolytic anemia, where red blood cells are destroyed prematurely. This mosquito-borne disease can also cause anemia, especially in children. 

Unhygienic sanitation: Poor sanitation practices can increase the risk of intestinal infections and worsen anemia. Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease can hinder iron absorption. 

Other Factors: 

Menstrual patterns: Women with frequent or heavy menstrual bleeding are more prone to iron deficiency anemia. 

Early marriage and frequent pregnancies: Closely spaced pregnancies can deplete iron stores in women, increasing their risk of anemia. 

Anemia has a detrimental impact on individuals and society. It can lead to fatigue, weakness, decreased work productivity, and impaired cognitive development in children. In pregnant women, it can increase the risk of complications during childbirth, both for the mother and the baby.  

Consequences of Anemia in Northeast India: 

Anemia, characterized by a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin, imposes significant consequences on individual health and well-being, social dynamics, and economic productivity. In North-East India, where the burden of anemia is notably high, these consequences are particularly pronounced and affect vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and children. 

Maternal Health Impacts: 

1. Maternal Mortality: Anemia significantly increases the risk of maternal mortality during pregnancy and childbirth. Women with severe anemia are more prone to complications such as hemorrhage, eclampsia, and infections, which can be life-threatening without timely medical intervention. In regions like North-East India, where access to quality healthcare services may be limited, the risk of maternal mortality due to anemia is heightened. 

2. Preterm Birth and Low Birth Weight: Anemic pregnant women are at a higher risk of delivering preterm or low birth weight babies. These infants are more susceptible to health complications, developmental delays, and mortality in the neonatal period. The intergenerational impact of anemia perpetuates the cycle of poor health outcomes, as low birth weight and preterm infants face long-term health challenges and developmental disparities. 

Child Health Impacts: 

1. Impaired Cognitive Development: Anemia in children adversely affects cognitive development and academic performance. Chronic iron deficiency, a leading cause of anemia, hampers neurological development, leading to deficits in cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and problem-solving skills. This impedes learning abilities and limits educational attainment, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment. 

2. Reduced School Performance: Children suffering from anemia often experience fatigue, lethargy, and difficulty concentrating, which can negatively impact school attendance and performance. Persistent tiredness and lack of energy diminish their ability to engage in classroom activities, participate in extracurriculars, and achieve academic success. As a result, anemia contributes to educational inequities and diminishes opportunities for socio-economic advancement. 

3. Susceptibility to Infections: Anemic children have weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to infections such as respiratory illnesses, diarrheal diseases, and malaria. Iron deficiency compromises the body's ability to mount an effective immune response, increasing the severity and duration of infectious diseases. In regions like North-East India, where infectious diseases are prevalent, anemia exacerbates the burden of morbidity and mortality among children. 

Interplay of Poverty and Malnutrition: 

Anemia perpetuates the cycle of poverty and malnutrition in North-East India by exacerbating existing socio-economic disparities. Poverty limits access to nutritious foods rich in iron and other essential nutrients, exacerbating the prevalence of anemia in marginalized communities. Malnutrition, compounded by factors such as food insecurity, inadequate healthcare, and poor sanitation, further exacerbates the burden of anemia and its adverse health outcomes. 

Challenges and Barriers: 

Addressing the high prevalence of anemia in North-East India demands a multifaceted approach that combines preventive, therapeutic, and systemic interventions. Government initiatives, along with community-based programs, play a crucial role in combating anemia and improving the overall health outcomes of the population. 

1. National Iron Plus Initiative (NIPI): 

The National Iron Plus Initiative, launched by the Government of India, focuses on addressing iron deficiency anemia (IDA) among vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, children, and adolescents. Key components of NIPI include: 

- Iron Supplementation: Provision of iron and folic acid supplements to pregnant women and children through maternal and child health programs, antenatal clinics, and school-based health initiatives. This aims to enhance hemoglobin levels and prevent the onset of anemia during critical stages of growth and development. 

- Distribution and Monitoring: Ensuring the availability and accessibility of iron supplements through the public healthcare system, including primary health centers, community health centers, and outreach programs. Regular monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are implemented to assess the coverage and effectiveness of iron supplementation interventions. 

- Behavior Change Communication (BCC): Conducting awareness campaigns and health education sessions to promote the importance of iron-rich diets, optimal nutrition practices, and adherence to iron supplementation protocols. BCC efforts aim to empower individuals and communities to make informed choices regarding their dietary habits and healthcare utilization. 

2. Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS): 

The Integrated Child Development Services scheme, a flagship program of the Government of India, addresses multiple aspects of child health, nutrition, and development. Within the framework of ICDS, specific interventions targeting anemia prevention and management include: 

- Supplementary Nutrition: Provision of hot cooked meals, take-home rations, and micronutrient-fortified food supplements to pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children under six years of age. These supplementary nutrition provisions aim to improve dietary diversity, enhance micronutrient intake, and combat nutritional deficiencies, including iron deficiency anemia. 

- Nutrition and Health Education: Integration of nutrition education and counseling sessions into anganwadi centers and community outreach activities. These sessions educate caregivers and families on the importance of breastfeeding, complementary feeding, hygiene practices, and the consumption of iron-rich foods to prevent anemia and promote optimal child growth and development. 

- Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD): Provision of early stimulation activities, growth monitoring, and developmental screenings to identify children at risk of anemia and other health conditions. Integrated health and nutrition services within ECCD settings facilitate early detection, referral, and intervention for anemia management. 

3. Anemia Mukt Bharat (AMB) Campaign: 

The Anemia Mukt Bharat campaign, launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, aims to accelerate efforts towards anemia reduction and elimination across India. Key components of the AMB campaign include: 

- Strategic Partnerships: Collaboration with state governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders to mobilize resources, raise awareness, and implement evidence-based interventions for anemia control. 

- Screening and Testing: Scaling up the coverage of anemia screening and testing services through healthcare facilities, outreach camps, and community-based health workers. Timely identification of anemic individuals allows for targeted interventions and appropriate management strategies based on the severity of anemia and individual health needs. 

- Capacity Building: Training healthcare workers, frontline workers, and community volunteers on anemia prevention, detection, counseling, and treatment. Capacity-building initiatives enhance the competency and confidence of healthcare providers in delivering comprehensive anemia care and support services. 

4. Community-Based Interventions: 

In addition to government programs, community-based interventions play a vital role in addressing the determinants of anemia and promoting sustainable health behaviour. Examples of community-based interventions for anemia control in North-East India include: 

- Nutrition Education: Conducting interactive sessions, cooking demonstrations, and community workshops to promote the consumption of iron-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, pulses, nuts, and fortified food products. Nutrition education empowers individuals and families to make informed dietary choices and adopt healthier eating habits. 

- Deworming Programs: Implementing deworming campaigns in schools, Anganwadi centers, and communities to combat parasitic infections, such as hookworm infestation, which contribute to iron deficiency anemia. Deworming initiatives target children and adolescents to reduce the burden of intestinal parasites and improve nutritional status. 

- Fortification of Staple Foods: Advocating for the fortification of staple foods, such as salt, flour, rice, and oil, with essential micronutrients, including iron, folic acid, vitamin A, and vitamin B12. Fortification programs aim to enhance the nutritional quality of commonly consumed foods and address micronutrient deficiencies at the population level. 

Prospective Aims of Northeastern States: 

Integration of Anemia Prevention into Maternal and Child Health Programs: 

To reduce the number of anemia cases in northeastern India, it is important to integrate the prevention and management of anemia into existing health programs for mothers and children. This can be done at different levels of health care, such as at antenatal, postnatal, and immunization clinics. Some of the key strategies that can be implemented are: 

Routine screening: To identify anemia in an individual during an antenatal visit, postnatal visit, or child wellness visit, and to provide timely intervention. 

Iron Supplementation: To ensure that pregnant women and young children have access to iron, folic acid, and other essential vitamins and minerals. 

Nutrition Counseling: To promote optimal dietary habits, such as eating foods rich in iron and providing complementary feeding for babies and young children, and to monitor adherence and address any issues with compliance. 

Referral and Follow-Up: To ensure continuity of care for an anemic person identified by routine screening, and to monitor treatment outcomes. 

2. Access to Fortified Foods: 

Improving access to fortified foods is crucial for addressing micronutrient deficiencies, including iron deficiency anemia, in North-East India. Key strategies include: 

- Fortification Programs: Scaling up fortification programs for staple foods such as rice, wheat flour, salt, and edible oil to enhance the nutritional quality of commonly consumed foods and increase iron intake among vulnerable populations. 

- Public Distribution Systems: Integrating fortified foods into existing public distribution systems, including school meal programs, supplementary nutrition schemes, and food subsidy programs, to ensure equitable access across socio-economic groups. 

- Consumer Awareness: Conduct awareness campaigns and education initiatives to inform consumers about the benefits of consuming fortified foods and dispel misconceptions surrounding fortification processes and safety. 

3. Enhanced Nutrition Education: 

Enhancing nutrition education and literacy is essential for empowering individuals and communities to make informed dietary choices and adopt healthy eating habits. Key strategies include: 

- School-Based Programs: Integrating nutrition education into school curricula and implementing school-based nutrition interventions, including gardening programs, cooking demonstrations, and nutrition clubs, to promote awareness and practical skills among students.

- Community Workshops: Organizing community workshops, cooking classes, and health fairs to provide nutrition education, raise awareness about anemia prevention and management, and promote local food diversity and traditional dietary practices. 

- Mobile Health (mHealth) Technologies: Leveraging mobile health technologies, such as smartphone applications, text messaging, and interactive voice response systems, to disseminate nutrition information, deliver behavior change interventions, and provide personalized dietary counseling to individuals and families. 

4. Leveraging Technology for Remote Healthcare Delivery: 

Leveraging technology for remote healthcare delivery is essential for overcoming geographical barriers and improving access to healthcare services in remote and underserved areas. Key strategies include: 

- Telemedicine: Implementing telemedicine platforms and virtual healthcare consultations to connect individuals in remote areas with healthcare providers, enabling remote diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of anemia and other health conditions. 

- Mobile Clinics: Deploying mobile health clinics equipped with diagnostic tools, point-of-care testing devices, and essential medications to provide doorstep healthcare services to communities in remote and hard-to-reach areas. 

- Health Information Systems: Strengthening health information systems and electronic medical records to facilitate real-time data collection, monitoring, and surveillance of anemia prevalence, treatment outcomes, and program performance, enabling evidence-based decision-making and resource allocation. 

5. Research Initiatives and Innovative Interventions: 

Investing in research initiatives and innovative interventions tailored to the local context is essential for advancing knowledge, identifying effective strategies, and addressing gaps in anemia prevention and management. Key areas for research and innovation include: 

- Epidemiological Studies: Conducting population-based surveys, cohort studies, and epidemiological research to assess the prevalence, determinants, and consequences of anemia in diverse populations and geographical settings within North-East India. 

- Community Trials: Implementing community-based intervention trials to evaluate the effectiveness of novel approaches, such as biofortification, food-based interventions, and community health worker-led initiatives, in reducing the burden of anemia and improving health outcomes. 

- Technology Solutions: Exploring innovative technologies, such as point-of-care testing devices, wearable sensors, and artificial intelligence algorithms, for rapid and accurate diagnosis of anemia, monitoring of treatment response, and delivery of personalized healthcare interventions. 


To effectively control anemia, a comprehensive approach is needed that takes into account the complex combination of biological, socio-economic, and environmental elements that contribute to the prevalence of anemia. This includes embedding prevention and management of anemia in existing health programs, increasing access to health services, increasing dietary diversity, improving nutrition education, and using technology to provide remote healthcare. By taking a multidisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders, Northeast India can create an environment conducive to sustainable development and collective action to eradicate anemia. 

Tackling anemia in Northeast India necessitates a holistic and coordinated approach that goes beyond traditional healthcare interventions. By addressing the root causes of anemia and building strong partnerships across sectors, Northeast India can ensure that anemia does not continue to impede the health and well-being of its people. With long-term dedication, innovative approaches, and collective efforts, Northeast India can lead the way to a future in which anemia will no longer be a barrier to health and prosperity for its people.