New Delhi: Lack of access to water, sanitation, proper nutrition and basic health services resulted in 802,000 infant deaths in India in 2017, despite the government’s programmes on sanitation, health and nutrition, a report by the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UNIGME) released on Tuesday revealed.

Infant deaths in India remained the highest in the world, said the estimates released by Unicef, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Division and the World Bank Group.

“Millions of babies and children should not still be dying every year from lack of access to water, sanitation, proper nutrition or basic health services," said Princess Nono Simelela, assistant director-general for family, women and children’s health at WHO.

The report highlighted that most children under the age of five die because of preventable or treatable causes such as complications during birth, pneumonia, diarrhoea, neonatal sepsis and malaria. By comparison, among children between 5 and 14 years of age, injuries become a more prominent cause of death, especially from drowning and road traffic. Within this age group, regional differences also exist, with the risk of a child from sub-Saharan Africa dying 15 times higher than in Europe, according to the report.

“Infant deaths were reported the highest in the world in India, followed by Nigeria at 466,000, Pakistan at 330,000 and the Democratic Republic of Congo at 233,000 (DRC). India recorded 605,000 neonatal deaths in 2017, and the number of deaths among children aged 5-14 was recorded at 152,000," said the report.

However, the numbers for infant deaths were lowest in five years for India and have come down from 867,000 in 2016 to 802,000 in 2017. In 2016, India’s infant mortality rate was 44 per 1,000 live births. In 2017, sex-specific under-five mortality rate was 39 in 1,000 live births for male and 40 in 1,000 live births for females, the report added.

An estimated 6.3 million children under 15 years of age died in 2017, or 1 every 5 seconds, mostly of preventable causes, according to the report. The vast majority of these deaths—5.4 million—occur in the first five years of life, with newborns accounting for around half of the deaths.

“Without urgent action, 56 million children under five will die from now until 2030 – half of them newborns," said Laurence Chandy, Unicef Director of Data, Research and Policy. “We have made remarkable progress to save children since 1990, but millions are still dying because of who they are and where they are born. With simple solutions like medicines, clean water, electricity and vaccines, we can change that reality for every child."

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