Time to remove blot of high mortality

India still lags behind even its poorer neighbours in controlling infant and maternal mortality.

Who is not proud to live in this land of colourful contrasts? Its diverse cultures, languages, religions and customs are mind boggling. Where else can you find a land that boasts of a 4,500 year old civilisation, speaks 1,600 languages among people descended from different races, following their own customs, religions and ethnicity?

 India does not have the tedious uniformity of countries like America where a mall, bookstore or cafe looks the same whether it is New York or San Francisco. Compared to such monotony, ours is a rich, vibrant, varied society where, in a 3.3 million km of space, such variety of cultures, customs and costumes co-exist with ease. Where the wealthiest rub shoulders with the poorest, and high rises reside next to slums. Where mega business houses thrive side by side with humble cottage industries. Yes, India is a land of incredible disparities.

But, unfortunately, the contrasts do not end there. We not only have the world’s largest deserts, highest mountains, longest beaches and densest forests --  but we also have the world’s richest billionaires living side by side with its poorest inhabitants. Our business tycoons find their way into Fortune 500 lists. They are privileged to gift their wives with the world’s most sumptuous homes. The homeless drifters, on the other hand, scrounge in wayside garbage bins along with street dogs for scraps of left over food in our biggest cities. True, every country has its share of the super rich and the poorest of the poor. But, nowhere is this stark difference so visible as in ours. Sadly, it extends to other more vital areas as well.

Unashamed leader

According to a UN report, India has the highest maternal mortality (MMR) rate in the world. It is an unashamed leader in this, with 50,000 deaths every year due to complications during childbirth and after. Ironically, at the same time, another international agency report says that India ranks 15th in the world with 175,000 millionaire households, competing with countries like USA, Japan and China. It has also been projected that India will become the seventh wealhiest nation in the world by 2018.

Nothing to rejoice about since a country’s progress and development is best judged by its infant and maternal mortality rates rather than by its millionaires and mega industries. Or, even by its incredible space programmes. What earthly use of reaching out to other planets when 300 out of every 1000 infants born in this land die immediately after birth; when one in every 22 does not live to celebrate his/her first birthday? When 200 or more of 100,000 young women die during childbirth, how dare we call ourselves a nation fit to compete with super powers? We are not only not first world citizens. We are lesser than the third world countries who, at least, have no pretensions of progress in the guise of rich industries, projects and other unnecessary frills of good living.

When our good living is restricted to less than 20 per cent of the population, and the remaining 80 per cent lives in poverty and deprivation, we cannot claim to be among the leading nations of the world. Leading perhaps in a handful of internationally recognised institutions – scientific, technical or any other – that does not qualify us to be leaders in the quality of life.

Quality of life is judged by people’s access to safe food, safe water and a safe environment to live in. Added to these, a progressive nation should obviously possess a viable system of medicare that provides proper primary healthcare to its weakest citizens. So, infant and maternal mortality rates are the best indicators of progress. Studies show that one in every 24 infants, at the national level and one in every 22 infants in rural areas and one in every 36 infants in urban areas still die in their first year itself. And these are only ‘official’ figures.

The number of unreported cases may be mind boggling. Why do these infants have to die? Mostly through untreated diarrhoeal diseases or infections that were preventible. If this can still happen despite countless medical ‘interventions’ touted under various health programmes and policies, it only means that such interventions exist only on paper.

As for maternal mortality, which is probably the result of severe malnutrition and repeated pregnancies (despite grandiose food policies and family welfare measures) we simply have to hang our heads in shame for being labelled the world’s leader in this respect. According to the latest data issued by the Registrar General of India, India still lags behind not only developed countries but even its poorer neighbours like Nepal and Bangladesh in controlling infant and maternal mortality. Some food for thought indeed.

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