Almost One in every Three babies in the world, who die before they are four weeks old is in India.
Of these, over one-fourth happen in Uttar Pradesh alone, reveals ‘State of India’s Newborns’, a report prepared by Unicef in association with the World Health Organisation, World Bank, department of health and family welfare, Government of India, and the National Neonatology Forum.
The report, released recently at the National Conference on Child Survival and Development in New Delhi, claims that of the roughly 26 million children born in India each year, 1.2 million die during the first four weeks. That’s 30% of the 3.9 million global neonatal deaths.
According to the report,the current neonatal mortality rate (NMR) of 44 per 1,000 live births accounts for nearly two-thirds of all infant deaths (death before the age of one) and nearly half of under-five child deaths in India.<
“In the 1980s, India’s NMR dropped significantly -- from 69 per 1,000 live births in 1980 to 53 per 1,000 live births in 1990. But in recent years the NMR has remained static, only dropping four points from 48 to 44 per 1,000 live births between 1995 and 2000,” says the report.
The report also highlights state-wise disparities in NMR, with Kerala boasting a NMR of 10 per 1,000 live births. Orissa and Madhya Pradesh are among the worst off, with NMRs of 61 and 59 respectively. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar together contributed to over half of all newborn deaths in India in 2000.
While elaborating on inequalities in the country’s healthcare system, the report says almost two-thirds of pregnant women delivered at home and only 42% of these women received care from skilled birth attendants. It also maintains that a strong gender bias in care-seeking against female newborns is conspicuous at all levels of the health system. For example, for every two sick male newborns admitted to a facility, only one female infant was admitted.
The report also draws attention to the fact that about 47% of children under the age of five in India are malnourished, and around 30% of babies are born underweight. Forty-six per cent of children under the age of five are reported to have stunted growth. All these factors, says the report, contribute towards the increase in the country’s neonatal mortality rate.
“Basic strategies such as oral rehydration and equipping parents with better knowledge about the value of immunisation are all keys to reducing childhood mortality,” says Dr Pascal Villeneuve, Unicef’s chief of global health.
The Indian Express, November 30, 2004