New Delhi, Nov 4: Every 20 seconds, a child under 5 dies in India. Close to 1.7 million children under the age of five die every year in India. The current debate over the deaths of infants in West Bengal’s hospitals should not lose sight of the fact that there is a silent epidemic of under-five deaths in the country that demands urgent solutions and not politicking, warns Save the Children.
“We seem to be missing the woods for the trees. The recent news coming out of West Bengal is tragic. But this is not a case in isolation. The fact that 1.7 million children under the age of 5 are dying every year across towns and villages of India speaks volumes of the healthcare system in our country,” Thomas Chandy, CEO, Save the Children, said.
Thanks to the media, the deaths at one or two hospitals are coming to light. But what about the thousands of under five deaths that go unreported? There has to be a concerted, sustained media campaign to make this a political issue.
Of 25 developing countries, India has the highest number of children who do not receive even the most basic of healthcare services. India spends just 1.04 per cent of the GDP on health care.
The majority of the under five deaths are due to largely preventable and even treatable causes like diarrhoea and pneumonia. Saving the lives of these children is not rocket science. It requires investment in health workers rooted in the community and fully functional primary health care centres.
India has a shortage of 2.6 million health workers, according to Save the Children’s own report.
The shortfall means that millions of children below the age of 5 are at great risk of dying every year from easily preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea simply because they do not have access to a trained health worker.
Chandy said: “Health workers are the backbone of health care systems. Without them, millions of mothers and children have little access to health care. We know that the presence of a health worker could mean the difference between life and death for the mother and her newborn child.”
In low income countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal, greater investment in community health workers has reduced the number of children dying. Both countries are now among the few on track to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goal to cut the child mortality rate by two thirds by 2015.
What we require now is political will matched by resources to tackle the issue of children dying. The Planning Commission has indicated that the XIIth Five Year Plan will see increased investments on health, which is welcome but we fear that primary health care will get the short shrift in the budget allocation.