Despite being hailed as an economic success story, India still accounts for a quarter of the world’s child mortality. The country has made incredible progress with life expectancy doubled, literacy rates quadrupled, the emergence of a middle class, and improved health conditions. However, India has failed to bring the issue of child mortality under control: nearly 2 million of the 27 million children born each year do not make it to their 5th birthday. Nearly half of these children die from easily preventable causes like diarrhea and pneumonia. With wide differences among socioeconomic class in access to health services, the very poorest of India have been left behind to bear the greatest burden of these deaths.

According to the World Bank, the United States spends about $8,500 per capita on health care. India on the other hand, spends $59. This difference is reflected in the child mortality rates, with the US under-five at 8 deaths per 1000 births compared to 61 in India. This is not to say, however, that India has made no progress in recent years. The number of child deaths has been reduced from 3 million in 1990 to 1.7 million in 2011. But even with this annual reduction rate of almost 3 percent, India is not on track to reach Millennium Development Goal 4, which aims to reduce the 1990 rate by two-thirds. Furthermore, the numbers do not reflect the inequalities of progress between urban and rural populations, as well as the concentration of deaths among lower-income groups.

The Infant and Child Mortality India Report has concluded that six states – Kerala, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu – are likely to achieve the goal by 2015. The study, released by the National Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the UNICEF India Country Office, provides further insight on key social and economic determinants of the under-five mortality rate (U5MR). It puts particular emphasis of the impact of maternal education on child survival. The report also discusses the great risk a child has of dying when born to adolescent mothers or within 2 years of the mother’s previous pregnancy.

“A renewed focus on empowering women and promoting equity in access to health services will help guide actions for accelerating child survival in India, as we move towards the year 2015 and beyond,” said Louis-Georges Arsenault, UNICEF India Representative. In terms of environmental factors, the study suggests that children living in households with access to unsafe sources of drinking water were at higher risk of death. Infant and child mortality is also higher for kids that do not have access to a flush or pit toilet.

– Ali Warlich 

Sources: Global Post, World Bank, UNICEF