Over the last decade, India has emerged as a leader in research and development of essential technologies and innovations for global health and development. Building on these efforts, this week, the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council has announced a call for proposals to encourage groundbreaking health research to combat challenges related to child nutrition. This initiative is sponsored by a partnership of the Indian Department of Biotechnology under the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Maternal and child undernutrition cause more than 10 percent of the global burden of disease. A woman's nutritional state during pregnancy has direct implications on the health of her child, both in-utero and continuing through the first years of life and on into adulthood. According to World Health Organization data from 2011, about 165 million children are stunted worldwide, and 1.5 million die each year from wasting. Poverty, nutritional deficiencies, inadequate feeding practices, and women's fragile socioeconomic positions are some of the obstacles to better nutrition.
"Achieving Healthy Growth through Agriculture and Nutrition" will fund Indian investigators who are piloting projects that could reduce the prevalence of low birth weight, stunting, and wasting in children less than two years of age, and improve the efficiency and quality of agricultural practices and products. It also seeks to foster solutions that specifically empower reproductive age women, given the critical roles they play in families and communities at the intersections of agriculture, nutrition, and health.
This initiative is part of Grand Challenges India, a partnership launched earlier this year by the Government of India and the foundation, to co-fund projects aimed at harnessing Indian innovation and research capacity. This new India-specific challenge is the latest development under the growing family of Grand Challenges programs - a family of partnerships, initiatives, and grants established to encourage scientific collaboration across sectors and borders to find creative, multidisciplinary solutions to both domestic and global health and development challenges.
India's longstanding experiences working to address agriculture practices and undernutrition make it uniquely positioned to pioneer cutting-edge solutions to these challenges. The country has driven unprecedented economic growth and scientific advances that can be leveraged to improve agriculture and nutrition. Further, India's political leaders and health officials have demonstrated strong commitment to leveraging the country's resources and human capacity for health impact.
India is home to one-third of the world's undernourished children, and the levels of stunting, wasting, and underweight children are among the highest globally. Significant domestic advances in India will have a profound impact on the total global burden, and will provide lessons and resources to be used in other parts of the world.
The "Achieving Healthy Growth through Agriculture and Nutrition" initiative creates exciting opportunities to forge multidisciplinary partnerships spanning the fields of nutritional science, agriculture, social practices and business to improve nutritional status in India and around the world. Indian researchers responding to this call will join a global community of scientists working to overcome similar challenges, where they can exchange experiences and build on each other's successes.
For more information, go to www.birac.nic.in.