Every year when Unicef’s The State of the World’s Children Report is released, we eagerly scan the pages looking for good news. We are deeply disappointed each year, and this year is no exception. The distressing figures tell a tale of shocking State neglect and apathy towards the most vulnerable, its women and children. One woman dies every seven minutes in India due to pregnancy-related complications. We have one million neonatal deaths annually. And the states that are perennially at the bottom of the list seem to do virtually nothing to improve. So as usual, two-thirds of all maternal deaths are in UP, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Orissa, MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Assam. And this after almost five years of a government committed to social inclusion and the aam admi.
Lack of resources cannot be an excuse any longer. If so Kerala would not have just one woman in 500 at risk of maternal mortality as compared to one in 42 for UP. Let us not compare ourselves to other countries that are economically not as well-off as us. This would make the picture all the more depressing. The reasons for these dismal figures are quite obvious. Over 52 per cent of women in India are anaemic and 40 per cent of all child marriages in the world take place here. So an underage, undernourished girl gives birth to a sickly baby, reducing drastically the chances of both for survival. While the Health Minister is tilting at various windmills, we rarely hear him say a word about the fact that India’s primary healthcare system has, at 40 per cent, the highest rate of absenteeism in the world. Even when the health worker is present, the quality of care is usually substandard. Putting the onus on panchayats has been a way for the government to shrug off any accountability.
All that is needed to reverse these figures is basic nutrition for women, strict enforcement of the legal age of marriage and a functional primary health system. The frustrating aspect is that next year around, at this same time, we will be saying all these things again. We can only hope that with people in a mood for governance rather than woolly political promises, at least some attention will be paid to these issues that could eventually negate all our economic gains.