With 7 lakh newborn deaths in 2015, India fared worse than most neighbours
India was home to 700,000 of the one million babies who died within 28 days of birth in South Asia in 2015, according to a Unicef report released in Kathmandu on Wednesday.
India consistently ranked a low sixth in newborn-care services among the eight countries in the region, including Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Only Pakistan and Afghanistan ranked lower than India.
India accounts for 26% of newborn deaths in the world.
“The total number of deaths are highest in India because of its large young population and corresponding high number of births, but the high newborn mortality rate is an indicator of where India sits in the region, and the ranking needs to be a lot higher,” said Douglas Noble, Unicef regional health adviser for South Asia, speaking to HT from Nepal.
Newborn mortality rates (NMR), defined as deaths per 1,000 live births, in India are the third highest at 28.
Pakistan’s NMR is the highest at 46 followed by Afghanistan at 36, which are unacceptably high compared to the best-performing Maldives and Sri Lanka, where 5 newborn deaths happen per 1,000 live births.
The Unicef’s South Asia Health Atlas 2016 praised Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan for making remarkable progress in routine immunization given their public health challenges. It said Pakistan, Afghanistan and India need to see very significant improvements in the next few years to being down newborn death rates.
Giving each child three doses of the DTP vaccine against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus is the World Health Organization’s accepted indicator for routine immunisation coverage. In India, DPT3 coverage is 87% against Bhutan’s 99% and Bangladesh’s 94%.
“India has shown a jump up in routine immunisation coverage over the past three to four years and if it builds on this momentum and keeps going at the same pace, vaccinating 98% children will be possible very soon,” Noble said.
What worked for Nepal and Bangladesh was the putting together of systems for training health workers, procurement of supplies, monitoring programmes and making course corrections, whenever needed.
“We’re not talking of hi-tech solutions but interventions that can easily be applied on a large scale, such as application of chlorhexidine to the umbilical cord to prevent infection and early initiation of breastfeeding (within an hour of birth),” Noble said.
With an under-five population of more than 121 million, India accounts for the highest number of the 1.5 million global childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths, followed by Nigeria and Pakistan.
These deaths can be prevented using vaccines, oral rehydration solution and basic hygiene practices.