Save the Children charity paints a grim picture

NEW DELHI: More than 400,000 Indian babies die every year from preventable causes within 24 hours of their birth, despite the country’s recent economic development, a new report said today.

India accounts for a fifth of all newborn deaths worldwide, according to the major report published by the Save the Children charity to launch a global campaign to reduce infant mortality.

Government initiatives in India to provide basic health care to all have not changed the grim reality for the nation’s babies, said Thomas Chandy, head of Save the Children in India.

“Although the schemes are there and the intention and allocation of resources is there, in many places they are not reaching out to people,” he told AFP.

“Every child, no matter where or to whom they are born, has an equal right and deserves an equal chance to survive. And every one of

us has a moral responsibility to act and act now.” The report, gathered from research in 14 countries, calculated that globally two million children die each year within 24 hours of birth — one every 15 seconds.

India’s child mortality statistics are particularly poor, with 72 deaths per 1,000 live births, higher than neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh.

And more than two million Indian children die

each year before their

fifth birthday. Major

causes of death in the critical first months of life

include malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhoea — afflictions which are cheap and easy to cure.

“I’ve had four children, but I lost my second child when he was just two days old,” Mewa, a 25-year-old mother who has tuberculosis and lives in Ajmer in Rajasthan, told Save the Children.

“I don’t know why my son passed away. He wasn’t even ill. I guess if I could know

one thing, I’d like to know what treatments there

are that I could use for

my children. That’s all.”

Low-cost solutions could reduce neonatal mortality

by up to 70 percent, but public attitudes surrounding health costs have stopped the Indian government from taking action, the report’s authors concluded.

“Change is indeed possible. If people understood how affordable and

feasible it is to prevent children dying, they’d be shocked,” said Chandy.

India has clocked a decade of rapid economic growth that has allowed it to boost spending on poor and rural communities, but Save the Children said most such programmes had not benefited those most in need.

More than half of all Indian women give birth without the help of skilled health care professionals, leading to infections and complications in their babies.

In far-flung areas, doctors and hospitals are rare and villagers often put the health of their children in the

hands of poorly-trained

substitutes. Chandy said poverty was only one factor in the high number of newborn deaths.

“Some local cultural practices are not helping,” he said, citing tribal groups who refuse to breastfeed their babies after birth. About $ 40 billion could significantly reduce child deaths worldwide through improved home care, breastfeeding and immunisation, according to the “Giving Every Child the Chance to Survive” report.

It said India was set to miss its Millennium Development Goal of reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds by 2015 — but pointed out that other countries such as Nepal, Peru and Philippines were on target.