Learning From Infant Mortality Rates
The decline in Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in the country is encouraging but it has also brought to light stark disparities between states. While states like Mizoram, Goa, Kerala, etc. have shown remarkable dips in IMR, the figure is abysmally high in states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The data released by the Registrar-General of India, has also exposed urban-rural disparities in infant healthcare as IMR is higher in villages in comparison to cities. India’s IMR has come down to 28 from 44 in the last decade but during the same period other south Asian countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka have done much better in this regard. The argument supporting special allowances to India due to it’s huge area, diversity and population does not stand as bigger countries like China and Brazil have also registered a better IMR than India.
There are various reasons behind India’s failure to match the success of China or Brazil in this regard. Firstly, considering the requirements of the country the allocation of funds to the health sector is very sparse. Till the last Union Budget, the allocation in the health sector was merely one per cent of the GDP. Barring Delhi and Tripura, no other states spent 10 per cent of the budget for healthcare. Secondly, malnutrition poses a great threat to both the mother and the baby as it affects their immunities. Such infants are more prone to deaths due to common childhood diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. Further, 52 per cent of pregnant women suffer from anaemia, which prevents from giving birth to a healthy child. Thirdly, uniform care during childbirth is not available, in some places qualified medical practitioners and hygienic labour rooms are available, other places are devoid of such facilities. Despite such odds, the fact that India has managed to lower IMR to an extent is mainly because of the contributions made by some smaller states, which have managed to reduce the number of infant deaths better than larger states. Bigger states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have registered an IMR of 43 and 38 respectively, while IMRs are much less in Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Jharkhand.
In this regard, a special mention should be made on the Northeast as all states belonging to the region have contributed immensely to reducing infant death rates in the country. Among all Indian states, Mizoram stands at the top with an IMR of 3 only. IMR in other Northeastern states like Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur, Sikkim, etc. are much below the national average. This is no mean achievement considering the limited infrastructure and difficult terrain of the region wherein sometimes reaching the nearest health centre becomes near impossible due to inconsistent weather, frequent landslides, and lack of connectivity. The achievement registers huge contribution by the Northeastern states towards nation building as protecting infants means ensuring a bright future for the country. This contribution should be noted by those who associate the region with secession, insurgency and unrest.