Three infants die every two minutes in India: UN report

Lack of basic health services, clean drinking water, sanitation and proper nutrition are the main reasons behind high infant mortality rate in India

Chandrakant MishraChandrakant Mishra   30 Sep 2019 10:31 AM GMT

Three infants die every two minutes in India: UN report

"My three-year-old son fell sick. We took him to the hospital. But after two days, he died. The doctors didn't tell us the reason behind my son's death. A few people in my village told me that my son was malnourished, which is why he died," said Rakesh Kumar, 34, who lives in Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh. Like Rakesh, there are many fathers who have lost their children to malnourishment.

Three infants die every two minutes in India due to lack of clean drinking water, sanitation, proper nutrition and basic health services, says a report by the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UNIGME).

In Madhya Pradesh, 42% children under five years are malnourished. According to the report of Ministry of Women and Child Development, 92 children die in the state because of malnutrition. Malnutrition-related deaths are common in states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh too. Though India is the second-largest food producer in the world, but many children still sleep hungry.

According to the 2018 report of Global hunger index, India has been ranked 103 among 119 countries. Sachin Jain, a social worker based in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, said: "Many schemes like the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, Midday Meal Scheme, Annapoorna Yojana and the ration distribution system have been launched by the government. But, India's rank in global hunger index convincingly refutes the claims of these schemes."

Many children are born malnourished because the mothers are malnourished.

In 2015, 12 lakh children died of malnutrition, of which majority deaths were reported from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. 48.3% children in Bihar. In Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Madhya Pradesh, many children are malnourished, according to the National Family Health Survey-4 report.

This year, more than 156 children died in Muzaffarpur, Bihar to an unknown lost fever, locally known as Chamki fever. Malnutrition is one of the main reasons behind these deaths. Santosh Kumari, 16, from Karimati village in Simdega district in Jharkhand died of hunger. "Bhai, bhat de, thoda bhat de" (Brother, give me rice, give me some rice) were Santosh's last words. She was hungry from many days. Both these incidents expose poor health and food system of the country.

"Malnutrition is a major problem in Bihar. It is the reason behind dwarfness in children and is affecting mental and physical health of children. Although situation here has been improving, yet malnutrition rate is still high," said Dr Arun Shah, who works in a community health center in Bihar.

India saw the lowest infant deaths -- 8.02 lakh -- in 2017, the lowest in five years.

Mazhar Rashidi, executive officer of Pratinidhi, an organization based in Uttar Pradesh that works for cleanliness and health, said: "Although the government is aiming for a malnutrition-free India by 2022, but every third child in India is malnourished."

In Madhya Pradesh, 92 children die because of malnutrition.

"Many children are born malnourished because the mothers are malnourished. This number is on the rise. Many societal and financial aspects are responsible for this," added Rashidi.

According to the UNICEF report, in India, children under the age of five years are likely to suffer from pneumonia, diarrhea, and tuberculosis.

According to the National Family Health Survey, in 2015-16, children below five years of age die dead due to diarrhea. This number stands at 24% in Jharkhand, 25% in Bihar, 29% in Odisha, and 33% in Madhya Pradesh.

However, infant mortality rate has seen a noteworthy change in India over the past few years. "If we look at the data from 2006 to 2017, infant mortality rate was 57 per 1,000 in 2006, while it reduced to 33 per 1,000 in 2017. This means there has been a significant fall of 42% in 11 years. But, still mortality rate in the country is high globally. Infant mortality rate of the world stands at 29.4% while it is 33% for India," said Yasmeen Ali Haq, representative of UNICEF India in an interview.

BL Prajapati, joint secretary of Women and Child Development department in Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh said, "Through the health centers, sub health centers, and primary health centers in Shahdol, we are providing better health facilities to the patients. The central government is also launching many yojanas to free India from malnutrition."

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