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Alarming report on young mortality rate: UNICEF

New Delhi, Wed, 23 Jan 2008 Vikash Ranjan

Out of the 9.7 million children dying every year globally before attaining the age of 5, India accounts for the 2.1 million, in a recent report published by UN’s children agency UNICEF Tuesday. Most shocking figure is fifty percent of them not even survive beyond four weeks.

However the mortality rate in India is declined by 34 percent between 1990 and 2006. But India still accounts for the 21 percent of children dying before attaining ‘five’ globally.

The result is good from one angle, if we compare the annual number of child mortality that has nearly been halved, from 20 million in 1960 to 9.7 million in 2006.

But a closer look on the annual report “State of the World’s Children 2008” released by UNICEF reveals that the progress has been unevenly distributed.

UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman strictly points out "there is no room for complacency. The loss of 9.7 million young lives each year is unacceptable."

Among other causes neonatal (37 per cent), pneumonia (19 per cent), diarrhea (17 per cent), and AIDS (3 per cent) are the possible major cause of child mortality. Approximately 70,000 children below 15 years are infected with HIV and 21,000 children are infected with the disease each year through mother-to-child transmission.

The report says that ‘malnutrition’ is continuously affecting newborn infants and young children and is the underlying cause of half of the mortality rate below five years. However as far as low weight birth rates are concerned, India accounts for 8.3 percent of the global rate.

The UNICEF executive director speaks that loss of very young lives of such a high figure of 9.7 million is completely unacceptable especially when these deaths are preventable. She appeals for the integration at the community level of essential services for mothers and children.

The new study, which stresses the need for increased access to treatment and avenues of prevention, underscores the impact that simple and affordable measures comprising immunization, insecticide-treated bed nets and vitamin A supplement, would not only be sufficient in saving children’s lives.

Despite the growth made in the realm of children’s health, dozens of countries are not able to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to reduce child mortality by two-third by 2015.

In this regard the suggestion of Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, WHO is remarkable, who states, “Stepping up investment in health systems will be crucial if we are to meet the child health targets set by the United Nations, but progress can be made even when health systems are weak.”

He further said that innovative programmes in many countries showed that an integrated approach where each child was reached with a package of interventions at one time could bring immediate benefits.

"Social changes do not happen overnight, it’s not like building bridges,” says Joint Secretary, WCD, Dr. Lavleen Kakkar when she observes that there has not been any significant change in the nutritional values for children in India in the last two years.

According to the report, universalisation of early breastfeeding within one hour of birth would reduce neonatal mortality in India by 22% and universalisation of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life would help in reducing young child’s mortality rate by 16 percent.

Besides all these measures reinforcing health systems and increasing political commitment to integrate health strategies, and harmonizing global health programmes as well as partnerships are essential to implement strictly to reduce young mortality rate.

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