Malnutrition and child mortality continue to endanger the lives of children in India, a UN report released on Monday says. The Unicef report ‘Progress for Children’ says malnutrition accounts for 50 per cent of under-five deaths. It is also responsible for low weight among children.
According to the report, of the 19 million infants with low birth weight in the developing world, 8.3 million come from India, where underweight prevalence is 43 per cent. About one-third of underweight children under five live in India. Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Gujarat, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Meghalaya all have high numbers of underweight children.
The good news is that worldwide the number of children dying before their fifth birthday fell to 9.7 million in 2006. In comparison, an estimated 20 million children were dying every year at the beginning of the 1960s. The report attributes the progress largely to healthcare improvements.
However, India, with an infant mortality rate of 21 per cent, still needs to do a lot more.
Miles to go
“Though substantial progress has been made, many areas still pose challenges. They have to be addressed,” Gianni Murzi, Unicef representative, told reporters here. In the UN, Unicef executive director Ann Veneman echoed his view: “Much more must be done… If we do so, we can help create a better world for generations to come.”
For instance, the report says, more than 500,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year. It points to an appalling lack of basic sanitation, hygiene and drinkable water, which contributes to the deaths of more than 1.5 million children each year from diarrhoea and related ailments. Moreover, the number of people living with HIV-AIDS continues to rise, affecting child welfare as well.
In the right direction
But there have been strides in the right direction. Between 1990 and 2004, over 1.2 billion people gained access to safe drinking water.
Vaccination and other forms of public healthcare are more accessible. Education, key to improving public healthcare, is also more accessible The number of primary-school-age children out of school fell from 115 million in 2002 to 93 million in 2005-06.
The findings “reinforce UNICEF’s conviction that the combined efforts of governments, international organisations, civil society, local communities and the private sector are making a difference and delivering results for children”, said Veneman.