Last year, 74,000 baby girls died in India

Diarrhoea, pneumonia, malnutrition common causes

Last year, 74,000 baby girls died in India

Last year 74,000 baby girls in India did not live to see the world beyond five years of birth, notwithstanding the country’s rising wealth and education standards.

Even though improvements were made in the last few decades, the world’s largest number of under-5 deaths (1.5 million in 2012) occur in India.

Out of these deaths, female mortality is more by 25 per cent in 303 districts spread over the country, resulting in 74,000 excess deaths of girls, says a study in the September 19 issue of the Lancet. This data were collected by governemnt agencies between 2001 and 2012. “The excess death of girls is driven by pneumonia and diarrhoea,” said lead author Prabhat Jha from the University of Toronto.

“The primary reason for more deaths among girls is poor care in the family because of which girls suffer from malnutrition. Due to parental illiteracy, decisions are often made in favour of male children,” Shally Awasthi, professor of paediatrics at King George Medical University, Lucknow, and one of the co-authors of the paper, told Deccan Herald.

Previous studies have shown a clear gender bias against care seeking for female children. in India. “If a child falls sick, there is a discrimination in the treatment as well as feeding practices,” said Faujdar Ram, one of the co-authors and director of International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai.

Examining government data on under-five mortality from 597 districts, the study suggests India as a country could achieve its United Nation’s child mortality reduction targets only by 2020 – five years behind schedule – whereas poor states could reach the milestone only by 2023.

As per UN Millennium Development Goal, India will have to bring down its under-five mortality to 38 per 1000 live births by 2015. This is feasible only in 222 districts.

“Diarrhoea, pneumonia and high rates of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are common causes and contributing factors to post-neonatal deaths. The contribution of pneumonia is high because of persistent difficulties in access to treatment,” said M K Bhan, a former professor of paediatrics at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi.

The results highlight startling inequalities between richer and poorer states in India. Only 81 districts –majority in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh – account for 37 per cent of under-five deaths. “They need special attention to new born care and gender sensitivity,” said Ram.

While national average of under-five mortality is 57.3, the figure is 75 for Uttar Pradesh, 77.4 for Madhya Pradesh, 65.4 for Rajasthan and 63 for Bihar.

Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh have around half of all people and births in India, but nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of all deaths of children under-five.

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