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India: One of the Worst Countries to be a Mother In?

Though the PM is lauding India’s public health milestones at the global summit, here’s why it’s too soon to celebrate

Updated
India
4 min read
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India is observing the National Nutrition Week. 

Snapshot
  • India has eliminated tetanus for neonates and mothers, meaning the number of infections are less than 1 per 1000: Union Health Ministry.
  • India is struggling to meet even 50% of the Millennium Development Goals expiring in December 2015.
  • One-third of all global new born deaths happen in India.
  • UN Mothers Index: Motherhood is hard in India, it is ranked in the bottom 15 countries.
  • 1 in 2 people defecate in the open in India. 2,00,000 children die annually from diseases caused by fecal contamination.

After eradicating polio, India has achieved yet another public health milestone of eliminating tetanus infection for both, newborns and mothers. It is a big achievement, given that at one point of time, tetanus at birth, was accountable for 15% of the total number of neonatal deaths in the country.

Though it does make us proud, it is too soon to celebrate. The newborn health challenge faced by India is still at a critical stage, much bigger than that experienced by most countries.

Take the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for example.

Set in the year 2000, the MDGs which expire in December this year, are a crude reminder of India’s failure to achieve 60% of the targets it set for itself at the start of the millennium.

The country accounts for the very high burden of newborn deaths in the world. Nearly 9 lakh newborns die each year in India alone (2013: United Nations estimates) and this makes up for a third of the total burden of neonatal deaths in the world and a staggering 54% of under-5 deaths in India.

Though the PM is lauding India’s public health milestones at the global summit, here’s why it’s too soon to celebrate
MDGs range from halving poverty levels, achieving universal primary education levels, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, providing clean drinking water and sanitation to all (Photo: iStock)
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UN: Every 10 minutes a Woman Dies in India During Childbirth

Though the PM is lauding India’s public health milestones at the global summit, here’s why it’s too soon to celebrate
Mothers Index: The best and the worst countries to be a mother in. Blue countries are best for mothers, red countries are worst and purple are somewhere in the middle (Photo: Save the Children)

India is in the bottom ranked countries to be a mother in. Around 60,000 women lose their life in childbirth related complications, every year. Fathom this: even after 69 years of independence, our maternal mortality rates are worse than those of Nigeria.

And the shame doesn’t end there. We account for a fifth of global maternal deaths despite a significant decline in maternal mortality rates between 2005 and 2010.

Though the PM is lauding India’s public health milestones at the global summit, here’s why it’s too soon to celebrate
Prenatal care and “skilled birth attendants” – midwives or physicians – at delivery reduce both a woman’s and her baby’s risk of dying in childbirth or soon after (Photo: iStock)

Maternal and child health doesn’t get a chunky part of the (measly) Union health budget, nor does it get the global health attention it should, which is otherwise eclipsed by diseases like, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

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More than 3 Lakh Babies Die Every Year Within 24 Hours of Birth

Though the PM is lauding India’s public health milestones at the global summit, here’s why it’s too soon to celebrate
India’s progress has been below the mark on parameters of poverty, child and maternal mortality and access to improved sanitation (Photo: iStock)

That’s 847 per day.

India makes up for a THIRD of all first-day deaths of neonates in the world. Moreover, India has largest number of child deaths (16 lakh) under the age of five years than any other country.

Over half a million children die in India before their fifth birthday because of severe acute malnutrition, according to the Indian Academy of Paediatrics. One child dies every minute.

Currently, government policies to tackle child malnutrition are fragmented across ministries. There is no policy to identify and treat severly malnourished children in the country - to frame a policy would mean the government accepts malnutrition as a failure, among many others.

The country’s failure to combat hunger in the first eight millennium development goals and the unlikelihood of achieving it by 2015, implies that our poverty figures are much worse than those of Bangladesh and Nigeria, two countries far less developed than India. (2012: 33% of the world’s extremely poor lived in India, while 8.9% in Nigeria and 5% in Bangladesh)

The scourge of open defecation and lack of clean drinking water are other basic issues which can save millions of lives.

Access to toilets can’t hurt, unlike the chronic, acute shame, embarrassment and fear that Indian women and girls must deal with at least once a day, every day when they defecate in the open.

Though the PM is lauding India’s public health milestones at the global summit, here’s why it’s too soon to celebrate
No country in the world has more open defecation than India, where one in two people defecate outside. Every year, 200,000 children in India die from diseases caused by fecal contamination (Photo: AP)

In a recent United Nation’s global health development index, India was ranked 135 out of 187 countries. After 69 years of independence, that’s very concerning for a nation with a global ambition.

Also Read:

With more than 40% children severely malnourished, why has the mid-day meal scheme, providing food to 10 crore children, remained strictly vegetarian?

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Topics:  Childbirth   Child Health   Maternal Deaths 

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