New Delhi, Jan. 1: Nearly half the children in India below three years are underweight and a similar number short for their age.
Painting a bleak picture of the health of children below five years, a study conducted jointly by the Centre’s department of women and children and the Unicef reported that out of every 1,000 children born, 70 do not see their first birthday and nearly 95 die before the age of five.
According to the report, the rate of malnutrition, which continues to be much higher in rural than urban areas, is decreasing at snail’s pace — a mere 0.8 per cent a year.
Despite a proliferation of government schemes aimed at reducing infant mortality and maternity deaths, India has not been able to come to grips with the problem. “Infant and maternal mortality remain high because of the occurrence of high-risk births (to) very young pregnant mothers and births taking too soon after the first one. Children of very young mothers have an infant mortality rate almost one and a half times higher than that of mothers in their 20s,” the report stresses.
The infant mortality rate (IMR) for births that occur within 24 months of the first birth is three times as high as that for children born after an interval of four years or more.
It also underlines the abysmal level of education among women and under-utilisation of safe motherhood devices. “The IMR for unlettered mothers is more than two and a half times the rate of a mother who has completed high school,” says the report.
Non-government organisations working at the grassroots say policymakers are not in touch with ground reality. The schemes are chalked out at the topmost level and their implementation is poor.
Most important, the NGOs say the near collapse of public health services is the most serious impediment to the success of these programmes.
High maternal mortality (MMR) deaths are caused due to, among other factors, home-based deliveries, low status of women and lack of access to proper health services.
Data collected from hospitals reveal a lower MMR in states like Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, which enjoy relatively better socio-economic conditions and literacy rates than the socio-economically backward states. Uttar Pradesh has the highest MMR and Gujarat the lowest.
The other problem staring India in the face is that of low weight babies who have a high risk of dying. Nearly 23 per cent of infants weigh less than 2.5 kg at birth.
The main reasons for low birth weight are poor nutritional status of the mother, hypertension, anaemia, malaria and other infections, as well as smoking during pregnancy.