By Prarthana Mitra
A recent UNICEF project taking full stock of Indian children’s survival rates over the years and alongside other developing nations revealed an impressive decline in child deaths, and a narrowing gender gap in surviving girl children over the last five years.
The report noted that the country’s share of global under-five deaths had equalled its share of childbirths for the first time, as India registered the lowest number of infant deaths in five years.
In 2016, around 8.67 lakh infant deaths had been reported, due to avoidable causes like complications during birth, pneumonia, diarrhea, neonatal sepsis and malaria. The number of deaths (of children below 14) stood at 8,02,000 in 2017, of which 6,05,000 were neonatal deaths, according to the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UNIGME).
The steady decline is also noticeable if one follows the infant mortality rate which was 44 per 1,000 live births in 2016. In 2017, the under-five mortality rates were 39 and 40 (out of 1,000) for male and female children respectively. The fourfold decrease in gender gap has been a historic highlight in the endeavours to curb female infanticide and improve childcare for lower economic households.
Yasmin Ali Haque, Representative, UNICEF India said, “The efforts for improving institutional delivery, along with countrywide scale up of special newborn care units and strengthening of routine immunization, have been instrumental towards this.”
Save the children
While acknowledging the government’s holistic nutrition programme under the POSHAN campaign and the commitment to eradicate open defecation by 2019, Laurence Chandy, UNICEF Director of Data, Research and Policy, noted, “Without urgent action, 56 million children under five will die from now until 2030 – half of them newborns.”
Millions of infants and children are dying around the world every year from lack of access to water, sanitation, proper nutrition and basic health services. In 2017, over half of the world’s neonatal deaths took place in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. While only 1 in 185 children dies in developed countries, that ratio is 1 in 13 for some African nations.
Princess Nono Simelela, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women and Children’s Health at WHO observed, “We must prioritize providing universal access to quality health services for every child, particularly around the time of birth and through the early years, to give them the best possible chance to survive and thrive.”
“Ending preventable deaths and investing in the health of young people is a basic foundation for building countries’ human capital, which will drive their future growth and prosperity,” the report read, further noting the role played by regional and economic disparities, the difference in case of educated mothers, and how the first month is the most critical period for an infant.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.