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Why experts are questioning municipal data on infant deaths in Mumbai

Mumbai experts said such a large drop in infant deaths is more likely to take place over a decade than a year

mumbai Updated: Sep 25, 2017 17:07 IST
Manoj R Nair
Manoj R Nair
Hindustan Times
Environment Status Report,Infant Mortality Rate,NITI Aayog
The report suggests that Mumbai has brought down its infant mortality rate to levels found in advanced nations. (HT File)

Last week, this newspaper reported on two important sets of data from the recently released Environment Status Report (ESR), an document released by Mumbai’s municipal corporation annually.

The report provides easy-to-understand data on the city’s population, land use, climate, health, roads and other vital information. A study of ESRs is one way to track the progress, or the regression, made by Mumbai in health, education, sanitation, communication and air quality. The 2016-17 report was released two weeks ago, but experts have pointed out what could be severe flaws in the data.

The report indicates that Mumbai’s Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) — which is the number of deaths per 1,000 live births of infants younger than one — has dropped substantially in a year. According to the ESR, Mumbai’s IMR has halved in two years — from 28.05 in 2014 and 23.16 in 2015 to 12.96 in 2016. The IMR ranges from 12 in Kerala to 54 in Madhya Pradesh and Assam. In 2013, Maharashtra’s IMR was 24, according to NITI Aayog. The World Health Organisation, in 2015, said the rate ranged between 10/1000 in Europe to 55/1000 in Africa.

The data on Mumbai’s IMR should have brought cheer to government and private agencies trying to reduce the number of infant deaths. The ESR data suggests that Mumbai has brought down its IMR to levels found in advanced nations.

Public health experts, however, see no silver lining. “A drop of that extent is more likely to take place over a decade than a year. To achieve this kind of progress, there have to be sustained efforts and programmes. In the absence of those, this kind of drop is suspicious,” said Abhijeet More, convener of Jan Aarogya Abhiyan, an association of public health organisations in the state.

Municipal health officials said the IMR dropped sharply as the number of infant deaths have fallen by more than 50% between 2014 and 2016. The ESR says 4,883 infants died in 2014 and 4,575 in 2015, but only 1,982 infant deaths were reported in 2016.

Public health experts have questioned the data, saying the drop of 2,901 infant deaths between 2014 and 2016 could be the result of loopholes in data collection, rather than results of an effective health policy.

When HT spoke to senior officers, they said they would re-evaluate the data.

Advocate Godfrey Pimenta, who has pointed out mistakes in the recently modified Development Plan (DP) — the planning blueprint for the city — said data collection by the municipal corporation has been a problem. “Even after the DP was modified, there are mistakes galore,” said Pimenta.

Pimenta’s group, Watchdog Foundation, has pointed out that many religious shrines are missing in the DP.

Another set of data from the ESR saaid 73% of the city’s daily output of 9,400 metric tonnes of garbage is food waste. This data is questionable, according to Almitra Patel, member of the committee that drafted the Municipal Solid Waste Management rules, 2000. Patel suspects that the data on food waste could be the quantum of waste generated from residential households and not representative of the city. Even if you consider that waste management at the source is poor in Mumbai, organic (food) waste cannot be more than 10-12%, scientists told HT.

According to the ESR, construction debris form 17% of the city’s waste. This figure is probably low as the average for construction waste is 30% in a city comparable to Mumbai, said Patel.

First Published: Sep 25, 2017 17:07 IST