A country’s infant mortality rate (IMR) is considered as a barometer measuring health status of its people. In that way, it’s also a vital indicator of human development. But despite advancements in technology and medical science, IMR remains a marked concern around the globe, including India, where the cause is one the nation aims to dramatically reduce by next year.
As a nation that’s growing increasingly aware of its ability to control its destiny, India joined the United Nations’ effort to achieve eight Millennium Development Goals* (MDGs) which were established around the premise of creating a life of dignity for all. Child mortality is at the forefront of the MDGs, and India is making steady progress. That said, however, there is still much work to be done.
India has reduced its IMR from 50 per 1,000 live births in 2009 to 42 in 2012, but the country is far from reaching its individual goal of having an IMR of 27 by 2015. And India’s goals are flanked by the larger ones established by the U.N.’s MDGs, which seek to reduce infant deaths and the mortality rate of children under the age of 5 (U5MR) by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. In fact, UNICEF’s report on India titled “Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed” ranks India at 45 out of 195 countries in the descending order of IMR.
Infant Mortality – A Top Concern
The stats are worrying. More than 300,000 babies in India die each year within 24 hours of being born, from preventable causes such as prematurity, low birth weight, asphyxia and birth trauma. That’s the highest anywhere in the world.
While India comprises nearly 30 states, nine in particular rank very low in terms of their maternal and child health statistics: Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. They also account for a disproportionate level of infant deaths.
While these nine states cover 48 percent of the country’s population and 59 percent of births, they account for 70 percent of infant deaths, 75 percent of under 5 deaths, and 62 percent of maternal deaths.
The Road Ahead
There is no single cause behind India’s struggle to reduce its IMR. Chronic poverty, limited access to health care and a lack of awareness all play a part, and none can immediately be tackled. Notably, findings from the Government of India’s Annual Health Survey (AHS) in the above mentioned nine states, which was conducted in part by Nielsen, shows that the problem is rooted in a combination of all the three.
Further, one in three children are yet to receive all the vaccines made available for free through the Universal Immunization Programme. The program offers vaccines for tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, poliomyelitis and measles. Additionally, the AHS indicates that at the country level, one in every 25 children fails to receive any vaccination.
While the country takes rapid strides on the path to development and growth, it’s critical that India focuses on reducing its high infant mortality rate, particularly because only a healthy India today will lead to a healthy nation tomorrow.
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