UNICEF study reveals two-thirds of rural Indian children who die below the age of five are lost to treatable conditions like premature birth, infection, and diarrhoea

Despite the government’s efforts to curb child mortality, children under the age of five continue to die due to medical negligence and lack of timely medical aid.

A study, funded by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, USAID and UNICEF, conducted in rural areas of 16 districts from eight states across India, revealed that even today newborns suffer from infections, acute respiratory infection (ARI) and diarrhoea, which accounts for approximately 63 per cent of deaths in children under the age of five.

The study conducted by the Department of Biostatistics, All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), along with the INCLEN Trust International, was published in the latest issue of Indian Journal of Community Medicine.

Children under the age of five continue to die of diseases such as acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea

Children under the age of five continue to die of diseases such as acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea

The survey conducted in around 216,794 households revealed that more than 1,656 children under the age of five die due to various reasons.

The autopsies were analysed to learn the specific causes of deaths. In newborns, these were shown to be birth asphyxia, premature birth, and infection.

All this contributed to more than 67.5 per cent of the neonatal deaths, while in children aged 29 days to 59 months, ARI and diarrhea accounted for 54.3 per cent of deaths.

Shockingly, the families of 52.6 per cent of newborns and 21.7 per cent of infants and children under the age of five, did not seek any medical care.

The study said that substantial delays in seeking medical attention led to deaths either at home or during transit.

Little girls continue to be ignored in the Indian households, as the study revealed that baby girls born at home, or born in a health center run by unskilled health workers and caregivers with less than primary education were at a higher risk.

States such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have recorded high mortality rates in children below five, and these were dubbed high-burden states in India.

Low birth weight and premature birth were the leading causes of neonatal mortality in Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Odisha. In Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, children largely died in the post-neonatal period due to diarrhoea.

“The majority of these deaths could have been prevented with the interventions offered in primary and secondary care,” the study revealed.

The study has indicated that arranging for transportation and social support for accompanying and deciding health care needs are interlinked and these were reported to be the major difficulties faced by families living in remote villages.

A contrary report was released by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS).

This survey was conducted in four of the 15 states and union territories, and it concluded that fewer children were dying in infancy and early childhood.

The Health Ministry recently said after the last round of NFHS in 2005-06, the infant mortality has declined in all the states/union territories.

The Ministry also said that all the 15 states/union territories have low death which is 51 deaths per 1,000 children born each day. It also added that there is a considerable variation among the states and the union territories.


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