States may now provide severely malnourished children with ready-to-use-therapeutic food (RUTF) but only after consulting a national board, a senior government official has said.
A meeting headed by the principal secretary to the Prime Minister has concluded that the decision on providing RUTF "may be left to the discretion of individual states".
This decision is seen as a shift from its earlier stance that RUTF was not an accepted policy and that enough evidence was not available for its utility in treating such children.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development had written to the states in August, asking them to stop providing RUTF to children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), stating that enough evidence was not available on its benefits.
RUTF is a high-energy, micro-nutrient enhanced packaged paste of peanuts, oil, sugar, vitamins, milk powder and mineral supplements and is used to treat children under five years of age.
"States will not have a free hand. States that want to give RUTF will have to do so after consultation with the National Technical Board on Nutrition. The board will comprise scientists and experts in the field of nutrition," the senior official, who was a part of the November 4 meeting, said.
The meeting recommended constituting a "National Technical Board on Nutrition" under NITI Aayog.
This body will make "technical recommendations on policy relevant issues on nutrition".
The official also said the Maharashtra government, which had issued a tender for procuring RUTF in contravention of the central government policy, will now have to approach the technical board before rolling out therapeutic food.
"Maharashtra will have to implement take-home ration and hot-cooked meal schemes for children. For RUTF, it will have to seek the board's approval," the official said.
The high-level meeting said the practice of providing hot-cooked meals to children between three years and six years and take-home ration for children between six months and three years, pregnant women and lactating mothers "will continue as prescribed under the existing scheme of the ICDS and as mandated by the NFSA (National Food Security Act)".
Take-home ration and hot-cooked meals are provided across 14 lakh anganwadi centres under the Centre's Integrated Child Development Scheme.
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