UN raps India over high child mortality

New Delhi, August 5:

More than 2 million children under the age of 5 are dying every year in India because of a lack of basic care despite the country’s rapid economic growth, the United Nations said today.

The report by the UN Children’s Fund focused on the Asia-Pacific region but singled out India — home to 20 per cent of the world’s children under 5. It also warned that rising inequality between the rich and poor risked undermining gains made in other countries of the region.

While India has made steady progress in recent years, it’s “not nearly enough,” said UNICEF regional director Daniel Toole, calling on the government to invest significantly more money on health services.

Officials from India’s Health Ministry and the Women and Child Welfare Ministry were not immediately available for comment.

In 2006, the last year for which there are full figures, some 2.1 million children under 5, or 76 children per 1,000 live births, died in India, the report said.

Much of this was caused by rampant malnutrition among mothers and children and resources not reaching the poorest segments of the population, it said.

Basic solutions like providing trained midwives or doctors — currently only present at about 30 per cent of births — or information on caring for newborn, like keeping them warm, could make a big difference, said Mario Babille, UNICEF’s head of health care in India.

The situation was compounded by discrimination against women and lower castes, it said. “When a young girl is born in India her chances of survival are significantly less,” said Toole.

While other nations in the region have made even less progress than India, India was highlighted because of its huge population, which affects UN goals of bringing down child deaths by two-thirds by 2015.

The report also singled out Afghanistan, Myanmar and North Korea where violence and international isolation were hampering efforts to bring down mortality rates.

But the report praised China, Thailand, Malaysia, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Nepal who had made great strides in reducing child deaths.