New Delhi: The Save the Children charity organization questioned the gains made under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in containing infant and maternal mortality because India has the highest incidence of maternal deaths and a 29% share of global newborn deaths.
The annual State of the World’s Mothers report found that 56,000 mothers die annually while 309,000 babies die within the first 24 hours of being born in India every year.
The newborn deaths are attributed to preventable reasons such as poor hygiene and high infection rates, the report said. The non-governmental organization has attributed the high rate of maternal and infant deaths to a lack of political will and inequity.
While India has made impressive economic growth, the benefits haven’t been shared equally, leading to a high disparity in the survival rates of the rich and the poor, the authors of the report noted.
“If all newborns in India experienced the same survival rates as newborns from the richest Indian families, nearly 360,000 more babies would survive each year,” the report said.
Experts maintain that maternal and neonatal mortality can’t be addressed by the health system alone.
“I would actually go beyond the authors who mention inequity as the major reason for high mortality. The larger problem is with the nutritional status of mothers and babies,” said Amit Sengupta, public health activist with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
“We clearly have unacceptable rates of neonatal and maternal mortality. But is related to not just the state of the health system,” Sengupta said. “The policy interventions do not address the nutritional status and it cannot be directly addressed by the public health system. This is about social determinants to health and the condition people live in.”
The report evaluated data from 186 countries and showed South Asia, which accounts for 24% of the world’s population, recording 40% of the world’s first-day deaths.
“Progress has been made, but more than 1,000 babies die every day on their first day of life from preventable causes throughout India, Pakistan and Bangladesh,” said Mike Novell, Save the Children’s regional director.
According to the authors, despite a decade of rapid economic growth in India, government-run programmes don’t reach those who need them most. Nearly 75% of newborn mortality can be reduced by improving access to affordable medicines and timely life-saving interventions, the report said.
“What is lacking (in India) is the political will and funding to deliver these solutions to all the mothers and babies who need them,” it said.