The scale of the problem was highlighted last year in the Indian Journal of Community Health when Dr Rajesh Kumar sought to find out the prevalence of anaemia in Bareilly.
Overall, among 435 women of reproductive age, the prevalence of anaemia was 49%. The percentage of mild anaemia was 55.4%, with 34.3% and 10.3% moderately or severely anaemic.
“It is evident from the current study that the burden of nutritional anaemia is high among women in the rural areas and hence, sincere efforts must be initiated adopting specific interventional measures with regard to nutritional education and anemia prophylaxis to reduce the morbidity due to anaemia in the rural areas,” he wrote.
One such measure now appears to be gaining traction in the form of blood-prick strip tests, which are being used by health workers. The equipment, recommended by the World Health Organization, is being used to test villagers in their own communities.
"Anaemia is responsible premature deliveries, subsequent low birth weight and possibly for inferior neonatal health," Dr Neelam Singh, a gynaecologists and health activist, told the Times of India.
Officials say better monitoring is helping promote supplementation with iron and folic acid tablets, which improve maternal and infant health outcomes.
Local health trainers say the new test avoid the new tests avoid the need for patients to attend clinics and means that treatment can be started more quickly.
Iron-deficiency anaemia has remained the leading cause of disability in India for 10 years now, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of the last two Global Burden of Disease (GBD) surveys.
Writing in First Post, IndiaSpend consultant Swagata Yadavar said poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation and imbalanced vegetarian diet meant that widespread anaemia was affecting the productivity of India's workforce.
“The 2005 GBD survey ranked anaemia caused by the shortage of mineral iron in the body as the top factor for disability in India. The latest report published last year shows that it caused 10.56% of all Years Lived with Disability (YLDs),” she wrote.
“The latest figures show a decline of 23% in disabilities caused by anaemia since 2005, but it is still the highest in the world. In 2015, 10.56% of total YLDs were due to iron-deficiency anaemia. Compared to Brics nations, these percentages are twice Russia’s and thrice China’s. India also leads this list in the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) figures.”
Iron-deficiency anaemia in India remains rampant among children below the age of three (78.9%) and women (55%), she stated.