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India avoided 1 million child deaths since 2005: study

The research is part of the Million Death Study, one of the largest studies of premature deaths in the world performed in India

health Updated: Sep 20, 2017 08:43 IST
Child deaths,pneumonia,diarrhoea
There has been a significant reduction in child deaths from pneumonia, diarrhoea, tetanus and measles in India in the past decade.(Shutterstock)

India has avoided about 1 million deaths of children under five years in the past decade, owing to significant reductions in deaths from pneumonia, diarrhoea, tetanus and measles, a new study shows.

“Nearly three times that number could have been saved if national progress in child health matched that reached in some states,” says Dr Prabhat Jha, head-centre for global health research, St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto in the latest issue of British Medical Journal— The Lancet.

An almost equal number of boys and girls under age five died in 2015.

The research is part of the Million Death Study, one of the largest studies of premature deaths in the world. The survey is based in India, where most deaths occur at home and without medical attention.

Hundreds of specially trained census staff in India knocked on doors of more than 1.3 million homes to interview household members about deaths. Two physicians independently examined these “verbal autopsies” to establish the most probable cause of death.

The study found a 3.3% annual decline in mortality rates of neonates (infants less than one month old) and 5.4% for those ages one month to 59 months.

The declines accelerated starting in 2005 and were fastest between 2010 and 2015, and in urban areas and richer states.

Per 1,000 live births, the mortality rates among neonates fell from 45 in 2000 to 27 in 2015. The one-59 month mortality rate fell from 45.2 to 19.6.

Looking at specific causes of death, mortality rates from neonatal tetanus and measles fell by at least 90%, neonatal infection and birth trauma fell more than 66%.

For children ages one to 59 months, mortality rates from pneumonia and diarrhoea fell more than 60%.

About 6 million children die around the world each year and progress in reducing that number depends greatly on India, which accounts for about a fifth of the deaths.

About 29 million Indian children died between 2000 and 2015, and had the mortality rates of 2000 continued unchanged, about 39 million children would have died.

In the past decade, India has modestly increased its traditionally low level of public spending on health. The government launched a program to encourage women to give birth in hospitals and for children to have a second dose of measles vaccine.

To meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals of halving its child mortality rates by 2030, India needs to maintain its current trajectory for children aged one to 59 months and accelerate declines in neonatal mortality.

Reducing the number of neonatal deaths will require efforts to reduce deaths caused by premature delivery and low birthweights, especially in poorer states.

Both are strongly linked to largely modifiable maternal and prenatal factors such as health care during pregnancy, education, nutrition, anaemia and tobacco use.

First Published: Sep 20, 2017 08:43 IST