Thursday, November 12, 2009


We are still not able to contain infant mortality!

No doubt India stands at an enviably advantageous position with respect to its demographics. Even with respect to China, which is more populated than any other nation, India stands to be at a better position, with respect to the proportion of people in the age bracket of 8 to 24. Indicating the fact that, as the global economy starts aging, Indian economy gets increasingly younger, strengthening the supply and demand side of the markets. But then this huge advantage seems to be withering away, going by the socioeconomic and health indicators, particularly with respect to children.

Recent study by an International Non-Government Organisation, Save the Children reveals that over 400,000 newborns die within the first 24 hours of their birth every year in India- beating almost all countries worldwide. Worse, around 2,000,000 children under five years of age die each year in India- comfortably beating all countries. This boils down to the fact that around 45.6 children die at the time of birth per hour while around 3.8 per cent children under age of five die every minute. And all this on account of just one reason and that is – malnutrition. Studies show that 33 per cent of all malnourished children live in India with over 75 per cent of infants not even experiencing 30 days of their life. United Nations Population Division declares the Infant mortality rate (deaths/1,000 live births) to be 55.0 per cent and under-five mortality rate (deaths/1,000 live births) to be 78.6 per cent thus bringing India down to 143 rank (of 195 countries).

One gets to understand the real picture when one compares this with those in developed nations where infant mortality rate is 3.2 per cent in Japan and 3 in Singapore! The infant mortality rate, as per Indian official figure, in urban areas was 36 in 2008 (compared to 37 in 2007) while in rural areas it was 58 (61 in 2007). According to the United Nations, the current world infant mortality rate is 49.4 per cent. It is not that those who survive the death trap, are any better off. Despite colossal immunisation, almost 33 per cent of all polio cases occur in India and all this is because poor sanitation and overcrowding (allowing the virus to thrive and survive). As per the latest figure available of 2008, India recorded 800 polio cases (for the uninitiated, polio has been eradicated from almost all developed countries).

And all this is an outcome of negligible allocation of resources and extremely poor delivery mechanisms and complete lack of accountability at all levels. Consider this: With around 450 million children form 40 per cent of the total population. In spite of them being such a large and significant and strategic chunk of the population, the government, last year, spent less than five per cent of the total budget on children. For instance, the government of Madhya Pradesh has spent merely Rs 80 crores for fighting malnutrition. And the matter seems worse this year as the government has kept the allocation pretty similar i.e., around 4.15 per cent!

It is a matter of utter disgrace for a young and growing nation like India that it can’t even prevent its young and growing children from death trap!! Even after years of independence, what the children in India receive is mere lip service or at maximum few discreet initiatives for sake of political-tokenism. Leave aside MDG 4 or demographic dividend, even if the nation wants to survive and sustain in long terms, it needs to prevent its newborns from untimely deaths... otherwise in no time we would be pushing this dividend towards a demographic disaster!


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