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The word Anganwadi means "courtyard shelter" in Indian languages. They were started by the Indian government in 1975 as part of the Integrated Child Development Services program to combat child hunger and malnutrition. A typical Anganwadi centre also provides basic health care in Indian villages. It is a part of the Indian public health-care system. Basic health-care activities include contraceptive counseling and supply, nutrition education and supplementation, as well as pre-school activities. The centres may also be used as depots for oral rehydration salts, basic medicines and contraceptives. As many as 13.3 lakh Anganwadi and mini-Anganwadi Centres (AWCs/ mini-AWCs) are operational out of 13.7 lakh sanctioned AWCs/ mini-AWCs, as on 31.01.2013. These centres provide supplementary nutrition, non-formal pre-school education, nutrition and health education, immunization, health check-up and referral services of which later three services are provided in convergence with public health systems.
The basic work of Anganwadi workers is extremely important and needs to be carried out in the most efficient manner possible.They need to provide care for newborn babies as well as ensure that all children below the age of 6 are immunized or in other words have received vaccinations. They are also expected to provide antenatal care for pregnant women and ensuring that they are immunized against tetanus. In addition to this they must also provide post natal care to nursing mothers. Since they primarily focus on poor and malnourished groups it becomes necessary to provide supplementary nutrition to both children below the age of 6 as well as nursing and pregnant women. Consistently they need to ensure that regular health and medical check ups of women who fall between the age group of 15 to 49 years take place and that all women and children have access to these check ups. They also need to work towards providing pre school education to children who are between 3 to 5 years old.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development has laid down certain guidelines as to what are the responsibilities of Anganwadi Workers (AWW). Some of them are as follows. These include showing community support and active participation in executing this programme, to conduct regular quick surveys of all families, organize pre-school activities, provide health and nutritional education to families especially pregnant women as to how to breastfeeding practices etc., motivating families to adopt family planning, educating parents about child growth and development, assist in the implementation and execution of Kishori Shakti Yojana (KSY) to educate teenage girls and parents by organizing social awareness programmes etc., identify disabilities in children and so on.
The Anganwadi system is mainly managed by the Anganwadi worker (AWW). She is a health worker chosen from the community and given 4 months training in health, nutrition and child-care. She is in charge of an Anganwadi which covers a population of 1000. About 20-25 Anganwadi workers are supervised by a Supervisor called Mukhyasevika. 4 Mukhyasevikas are headed by a Child Development Projects Officer (CDPO).
There are an estimated 10.53 lakh Anganwadi centers employing 18 lakh mostly-female workers and helpers across the country. They provide outreach services to poor families in need of immunization, healthy food, clean water, clean toilets and a learning environment for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. They also provide similar services for expectant and nursing mothers. According to government figures, Anganwadis reach about 5.81 crore children and 1.02 crore pregnant or lactating women.
Anganwadis are India's primary tool against the scourges of child malnourishment, infant mortality and curbing preventable diseases such as polio. While infant mortality has declined in recent years, India has the world's largest population of malnourished or under-nourished children. It is estimated that about 47% of children aged 0–3 are under-nourished as per international standards.
Every 40 to 65 Anganwadi workers are supervised by one Mukhya Sevika. They provide on the job training to these workers. In addition to performing the responsibilities along with the Anganwadi workers they have other duties such as keeping a check as to who are benefitting from the programme from low economic status specifically those who belong to the malnourished category, guide the Anganwadi workers in assessing the correct age of children, weight of children and how to plot their weights on charts, demonstrate to these workers as to how everything can be done using effective methods for example in providing education to mothers regarding health and nutrition, and also maintain statistics of Anganwadis and the workers assigned there so as to determine what can be improved. The Mukhya Sevika then reports to the Child development Projects Officer (CDPO).
India is a country suffering from overpopulation, malnourishment, poverty and high infant mortality rates. In order to counter the health and mortality issues gripping the country there is a need for a high number of medical and healthcare experts. Unfortunately India is suffering from a shortage of skilled professionals. Therefore through the anganwadi system the country is trying to meet its goal of enhanced health facilities that are affordable and accessible by using local population. In many ways an Anganwadi worker is better equipped than professional doctors in reaching out to the rural population. Firstly since the worker lives with the people she is in a better position to identify the cause of the various health problems and hence counter them. Hence she has a very good insight of the health status in her region. Secondly though Anganwadi workers are not as skilled or qualified as professionals they have better social skills thus making it easier to interact with the people. Moreover since these workers are from the village itself they are trusted easily which makes it easier for them to help the people. Last but not the least, Anganwadi workers are well aware of the ways of the people, are comfortable with the language, know the rural folk personally etc. which makes it very easy for them to figure out the problems being faced by the people and ensure that those problems are solved.
Challenges and solutions
There have been public policy discussions over whether to make anganwadis universally available across the country to all eligible children and mothers. This would require significant increases in budgetary allocation and a rise in Anganwadis centers to over 16 lakh.
Anganwadis are staffed by officers and their helpers, who are typically women from poor families. The workers do not have permanent jobs with comprehensive retirement benefits like other government staff. Worker protests (by the All India Anganwadi Workers Federation) and public debates on this topic are ongoing. There are periodic reports of corruption and crimes against women in some Anganwadi centers. There are legal and societal issues when Anganwadi-serviced children fall sick or die.
In announcing the 2008-2009 Budget, Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram stated that salaries would be increased for anganwadi workers to Rs 1500 per month and helpers to Rs 750 per month. In March 2008 there is debate about whether packaged foods, such as biscuits, should become part of the food served. Detractors, including Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, disagreed saying it will become the only food consumed by the children. Options for increasing partnership with the private sector are continuing.
Integration with other official schemes
Integrated Child Development Services (India) Scheme did not have provision for construction of AWC buildings under the scheme as this was envisaged to be provided by the community except for the North Eastern States for which financial support was being provided for construction of AWC buildings since 2001-02 at a unit cost of Rs.175,000.
As part of Strengthening and Restructuring of ICDS Scheme, Government has approved a provision of construction of 200,000 Anganwadi Centre buildings at a cost of Rs. 450,000 per unit during XII Plan period in a phased manner with cost sharing ratio of 75:25 between Centre and State other than the NER, where it will be at 90:10.
Further, construction of AWC has been notified as a permissible activity under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act MNREGA. The construction of AWC building can be taken up in convergence with MNREGA.
The Anganwadi as it is actually functioning presently in India is indicated by a collection of newspaper reports by the leading daily newspaper of India, The Times of India  To quote from the first report,
"Two children of an anganwadi centre in Angul district died in a freak accident on Friday. They drowned in a rainwater-filled pit dug near their anganwadi centre. The children are Priyanka Dash (3) and Monalisa Naik (4) of Tentulihata village within Banarapala police limits, 20 km from here. The incident comes two months after seven children of an anganwadi centre were killed in Nayagarh district when rain-soaked brick wall of the centre fell on them while they were having their mid-day meals."
In a desperate attempt to improve the poor state of governance of the anganvadi scheme in his budget speech for the financial year 2011-12, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee increased the salary for Anganwadi workers to Rs 3000 per month and helpers to a pitiable Rs 1500 per month about one tenth of the salary of government peons.
Workers and helpers are expected to be trained per WHO standards.
- National Population Policy 2000, National Commission on Population website. Accessed February 13, 2008
- "The Anganwadi Workers of India". Health Opine. 3 March 2011. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
- Anganwadi Information - http://healthopine.com/healthcare-infrastructure/the-anganwadi-workers-of-india-connecting-for-health-at-the-grassroots