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Generation hexed

As If the glaring numbers of female foeticide weren?t depressing enough, findings of a report come as a shock.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2006 01:01 IST

As If the glaring numbers of female foeticide weren’t depressing enough, findings of a report come as a shock. The State of India’s Newborns Report underlines the urgent need for drastic measures to reverse the persisting negative trend in neo-natal (within four weeks of delivery) mortality. The report states that of the 26 million babies born in India, around 1.2 million die before completing the first four weeks of life. Over one-third of the deaths occur on the first day, and almost half within three days. Conducted by the Indian government (with the Unicef, WHO, the World Bank and the National Neonatology Forum), the study paints a dismal picture of the State of India’s children, over half of whom are born without assistance at home, where the mothers are young, poor and under-nourished. The staggering figure of 1.2 million accounts for 30 per cent of all neo-natal deaths in the world. For India, this is shameful and poses a big challenge.

Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh account for over half the deaths and form 15 per cent of the global burden. In Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, 61 and 59 infants of every 1,000 live births die respectively. While the neo-natal mortality rate (NMR) had declined in the Eighties; it has inexplicably remained static since. In MP, the government has expressed concern at the state’s maternal mortality rate being substantially higher than the national average. But clearly, it will take more than ministerial concern to change ground realities. For one, good intentions must be backed with concrete time-framed initiatives whose impact on mother and child health is measurable. Two, with health inexorably linked to poverty levels, the declining state expenditure on public health is having a direct negative effect on young mothers and their children. With limited or no access to family planning practices leading to frequent pregnancies, coupled with malnourished mothers, it’s a marvel that children manage to escape death in their first five years of life in pockets of India.

What stops state governments from kickstarting an integrated primary healthcare system to promote mother and child health? Governments — state and central — must create accountable administrative systems to ensure that we can, at least, keep our children alive in the 21st century.