Mongolia praised for its lower child deaths

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NEW DELHI: 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 yesterday. The report by the UN Children’s Fund focused on the Asia-Pacific region but singled out India – home to 20 percent 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 ca
used 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 percent 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. Female children were less likely to receive medical care or ev
en have their births registered and this deep discrimination was causing a vicious cycle, he said. “An unhealthy girl child is likely to be an under-nutritioned mother with low birth weight children,” he said.

In traditional Indian society girls are seen as a financial burden, needing huge dowries when they marry that can cripple a family financially. Boys typically remain at home after marrying, helping to care for aging parents. Hinduism also dictates preference, with only men being able to light their parents’ funeral pyres. 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.

Still, it cautioned against rising financial inequality. “The divide between rich and poor is rising at a troubling rate within sub-regions of Asia-Pacific, leaving vast numbers of mothers and children at risk of increasing relative poverty and continued exclusion from quality primary health care,” the report said. The report also focused on China, which has a larger population than India but has succeeded in bringing its child deaths down from 80 per 1,000 live births in 1970 to 20 in 2006, or some 415,
000 per year. However, UNICEF cautioned that China could not afford to be lax. “China has made spectacular progress, but it is slowing down. China needs to reinforce the system it has put in place,” said Toole. – AP

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