Ankita Chakrabarty/ Zee Research Group/ Delhi
Indian policy makers can take solace in the fact that the country’s ‘Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) count has dropped by three points in 2011 and currently stands at 44. But the solace turns into despair the moment the harsh reality of relatively poor figure of mortality deaths of children under five and neonatal along with the appalling causes of death dawns.
India along with Nigeria accounts for more than one–third of the total under–five deaths worldwide according to the UNICEF ‘Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed 2012’ report. The under–five mortality rate of India stands at 61. Also, a quarter of world’s neonatal deaths (one million) each year take place in India.
The startling figures are endorsed by the medical fraternity. Dr. Vandana Kent, senior consultant at Rockland Hospital, laments, “Among all deaths of children under the age of five years, the share of neonatal mortality (death of children within 28 days of birth) is the greatest and so it requires immediate attention.”
Concurring with the view, Dr. Raghuram Mallaiah, senior consultant, neonatology at Fortis La Femme, reiterates, “If you are able to conquer the neonatal deaths, you have won half the battle against the child mortality. Proper maternal care is required to overcome the current scenario. Antenatal checkups should be done. After the birth of the child, the child and the mother should be under the care of an expert to avoid complications.”
Pneumonia followed by prematurity and diarrhoea are the leading causes of death in children below the age of five years in India. In India, 24 percent of children under the age of five years succumb to pneumonia, the figure of deaths due to prematurity stands at 20 percent and 13 percent of all deaths in children under the age of five are due to diarrhoea respectively. Neonatal sepsis (eight percent) and congenital anomalies (seven percent) are few other leading causes of deaths. In India, 28 percent of newborns are recorded to have low birth weight.
Expressing deep concern on the causes of child mortality in India, Dr. Shekhar Vashist, consultant, pediatrics at Moolchand Medcity, New Delhi, laments, “Ninety per cent of these deaths occur due to easily preventable causes like pneumonia and diarrhoea. Maximum number of death occurs among preterm born babies (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) which results in low immunity among infants, making them more prone to suffer from diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia resulting in high rate of mortality.”
Of the 7.6 million deaths among children under age five in 2010 (including neonatal deaths), 18 percent were due to pneumonia and 11 percent to diarrhoea. Approximately 90 percent of these deaths wherein Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and the five countries with the most deaths are: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia according to the UNICEF’s 2012 report ‘Countdown to 2015’.
31 percent of children under the age of five years with suspected pneumonia are still not taken to appropriate health providers in India. 40 percent of women in the reproductive age have prevalence of low body mass index according to the UNICEF’s report.
Suggesting measures to address the worrisome situation, Dr. Kent at Rockland emphasises, “Immunisation drive in India is still very low because of ignorance. Many pregnant women in India are not even aware of the vaccination coverage. So, all mothers should be given advice to take their respective children for immunisation to overcome the current situation.”
India accounts for 59 percent of the 1.1 billion people in the world who practice open defecation and India has already gained the title of the capital of open defecation. Defecating in the open leads to the spread of diseases like diarrhoea.
Highlighting the importance of good hygienic practices, Dr. Vashist at Moolchand warns, “Proper sanitisation practices should be adopted by the pregnant women. It is very important to wash hands before and after eating to avoid the spread of infectious diseases which are one of the leading causes of child mortality.”