India’s maternal mortality rate falls, but still a long way to go

India’s maternal mortality rate declined 16% in 2011-12 from 2007-09, according to data from Registrar General


Infant mortality in India declined marginally to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 from 44 deaths in 2011. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Infant mortality in India declined marginally to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 from 44 deaths in 2011. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

New Delhi: Pregnancy-related and infant deaths in the country have declined significantly from a few years earlier, according to the latest data released by the Registrar General of India, but experts say there’s not much to cheer in the numbers given that India still lags behind developed nations and even its poorer neighbours.

India’s maternal mortality rate (MMR), or the rate of deaths among women during or after pregnancy, declined by 16% in 2011-12 from 2007-09, according to the data released on Friday.

Although the MMR dropped from 212 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007-09 to 178 in 2010-12, India is behind the target of 103 deaths per live births to be achieved by 2015 under the United Nations-mandated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The MMR in southern states fell 17% from 127 to 105, closer to the MDGs. Assam and Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand were the worst performing states, with an MMR of 328 and 292, respectively. Kerala and Tamil Nadu have surpassed the MDG with an MMR of 66 and 90, respectively.

Infant mortality declined marginally to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 from 44 deaths in 2011. Madhya Pradesh registered the highest infant mortality at 56, and Kerala the least at 12. Among metropolitan cities, Delhi, the national capital, was the worst performer with 30 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012.

One in every 24 infants at the national level, one in every 22 infants in rural areas, and one in every 36 infants in urban areas still die within one year of life, the report said.

“There is not much to celebrate with the decline in maternal mortality as we are still far behind developed countries and even developing countries like Nepal and Bangladesh, which have surpassed us,” said Amit Sengupta, of Jana Swasthya Abhiyan (People’s Health Movement), a civil society organization. The “government mandate to institutionalize (child) deliveries will have marginal results till problems like early marriage of girls, nutrition of women and gender equity are not looked at,” he said.

According to the Annual Health Survey (AHS), which covers nine states, India has made headway in institutionalizing child deliveries, i.e. taking place in hospitals. More than 40% of child deliveries in Chhattisgarh and 79% in Madhya Pradesh were institutional in 2012, compared with 34.9% in Chhattisgarh and 76.1% in Madhya Pradesh in 2011.

The states covered by the AHS are Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Assam.

More than 85% of the total births took place in government institutions in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha in 2011, and this was more than 60% in the other states surveyed, except Jharkhand, according to the latest AHS data.

But total fertility ratio (TFR), or the average number of children given birth by a woman, reach a preferred level of 2.1 in only 29 out of 284 AHS districts, whereas in 2011 it was 20 districts, according to the AHS data.

The Registrar General also released data showing that the sex ratio at birth improved by 2 points to 908 females per 1,000 males in 2010-2012 from 906 in 2009-2011. Chhattisgarh reported the highest sex ratio at birth (979) and Haryana the lowest (857).

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