India’s under-five mortality rate now matches the global average (39 deaths per 1,000 live births), but the number of infant and neonatal deaths--and the performance of India’s poorer neighbours--indicate that tackling newborn health remains a formidable challenge, according to a new report.
The number of children under-five dying has fallen by 30% since 2012, from 1.4 million to 989,000. Over the same period, infant deaths (dying before reaching their first birthday) fell by 26% (1.09 million to 802,000) and neonatal deaths (dying in the first 28 days) by 22% (779,000 to 605,000).
These data indicate a continuing high mortality risk in the first year of life for Indian children.
These are the findings of a report released on September 18, 2018, by the The United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation.
By addressing the most common risk factors for child mortality with prevention methods such as access to diarrhea and pneumonia treatment, measles and tetanus vaccinations and increasing hospital births, the number of child deaths have been able to decline, according to this 2017 paper, published in The Lancet, a global journal.
India’s infant mortality rate in 2017 was 32 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to the global average of 2. Neonatal mortality rates show a similar gap--24 per 1,000 live births for India, compared with the global average of 18.
Child mortality rates are often used as an overall measure of population health, as well as to determine levels of social and economic development. The number young children dying can indicate the ability of communities to access basic healthcare, adequate nutrition and clean water and sanitation.
Srilanka, Bangladesh, Nepal Still Better
Though India may now match the global average for under-five mortality rates at 39 deaths per 1,000 live births, three countries within South Asia already have rates lower than this figure, outperforming India on this key development indicator.
The mortality rates of Bangladesh and Nepal, both countries with a lower per capita income than India’s $1,939 ($1,546 and $835, respectively) are 32 and 34, compared to 39 for India. Sri Lanka, which tops the South-Asian rankings with a rate of 9, also has the highest per capita income in the region: $3,790.
Bangladesh and Nepal had higher under-five mortality rates in 1990 than India (144 and 140 respectively vs 126 in India) but pulled ahead around a decade later in 2000.
The same three countries also have the lowest infant mortality rates (IMR).
However, India has shown the biggest improvement, with the largest reduction (27%) of IMR among South Asian countries since 2012.
Who You Are and Where You Are Born Matters
“Children are dying because of who they are and the environments into which they were born,” said the report, citing studies that indicate children in the poorest households are nearly twice as likely to die before the age of five as those from the richest, as well as those whose mothers lack any secondary or higher education.
(Sanghera is a writer and researcher with IndiaSpend.)
(This article was originally published on India Spend and has been re-published with permission.)
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