Good news has been in short supply in India this year. The headlines have been dominated by news about corruption scandals, policy paralysis, raging inflation, slowing growth and much more.
Here’s some good news at the end of the year -- well, sort of. The government said on Wednesday that the infant mortality rate has dropped three percentage points in 2010, from 50 deaths per 1000 live births in 2009 to 47 a year later. Reduction of child mortality is the fourth of the eight Millennium Development Goals that countries have committed to. India has to cut its child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.
Data from the World Bank shows that India had an infant mortality rate of 81.4 in 1990; it has to bring this down to around 28 deaths per 1000 live births by 2015. Even a reduction at the current rate -- three percentage points a year -- will not help India reach its target.
There are two specific problems that need policy focus. First, more women need to be provided incentives to deliver their babies in hospitals rather than at home. The Janani Suraksha Yojana that provides cash incentives to pregnant women to choose institutional care has been quite successful.
The second challenge is to provide care to new born kids. The secretary of the health ministry has pointed out that around half of the infant deaths in India are of children in their first 28 days. “Home-based newborn-care through Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) has been initiated by providing an incentive of Rs250. The purpose of home-based newborn-care is to improve newborn practices at the community level and early detection and referral of sick newborns,” said P.K. Pradhan.
The new data on infant mortality tells us two things: India is making gradual progress in improving its abysmal social indicators but that progress is not just good enough.