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Learning to live better from the dead

The government?s project to study the one million deaths in India between 1998 and 2014 is an important initiative. There is little cause-of-death data available in this country.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2006 03:40 IST
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The government’s project to study the one million deaths in India between 1998 and 2014 is an important initiative. There is little cause-of-death data available in this country. Most death records cite accident, violence or disease as a cause, which is of little help except perhaps to update police and census records. In India, death certificates, more often than not, are merely records for paperwork that the deceased’s family need to carry out. Add to this the fact that only one out of three deaths are registered, and that over 75 per cent of deaths occur at home, most of which have no certified cause.

Data on the cause of death is one of the best indicators of how access to health facilities, their use and their delivery mechanisms are impacting health in India. It is the measure of immunisation programmes, primary health initiatives and medical practices throughout the country. While maternal deaths at childbirth, for instance, account for a mere 1 per cent of death in developed nations, in India it is counted as a frequent cause of death. WHO estimates that in 2005, after chronic conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease, the highest number of the projected 10,362,000 deaths in India will be from communicable diseases, nutritional deficiencies and — appallingly — perinatal and maternal deaths. Respiratory diseases, injuries, diabetes are other main causes.

India’s life expectancy at birth stands at 63 years. For several pockets of the population, this is reducing, its reason ranging from socio-economic backwardness to no access to basic healthcare. Access to primary healthcare affects not only how people live, but also how they die. To that end, the ‘death project’ should go a long way in helping India improve its lives.

First Published: Jan 16, 2006 03:40 IST