India’s Infant Mortality Rate Is among World’s Worst, Says UNICEF Report
Despite global success in bringing down the number child deaths, across the world, infant mortality rates remain alarmingly high, particularly among the world’s poorest countries, according to a new UNICEF report. Newborns in Japan, Iceland and Singapore have the best chance at survival, while infants in India face among the worst odds; only 11 other lower-to-middle-income countries have worse rates of newborn survival.
“While we have more than halved the number of deaths among children under the age of five in the last quarter century, we have not made similar progress in ending deaths among children less than one month old,” said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF’s executive director. “Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies.”
India’s infant mortality rate is high — 25.4 in every 1,000 live births, or 1.2 in every 50 babies born, according to the UNICEF report — though it has steadily declined over the past decade and is little more than half that of the countries topping the worst list (Pakistan, at 45.6 in 1,000 and the Central African Republic, at 42.3 in 1,000). Conflicting data makes tracking difficult, however; a bulletin from the the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, released last year, put the country’s infant mortality rate considerably higher for the same period, at 34 in every 1,000 live births, though that figure was an 8% drop in deaths from the previous year.
But more telling for a rapidly developing country with sharp economic divisions like India, is the disparity in infant mortality that exists within countries.
“Babies born to the poorest families are more than 1.4 times more likely to die during the newborn period than those born to the richest. Babies born to mothers with no education face almost twice the risk of dying as newborns as babies born to mothers with at least a secondary education,” the report asserts. “In other words, babies are dying not just from medical causes such as prematurity and pneumonia. They are dying because of who their parents are and where they are born – because their families are too poor or marginalized to access the care they need.”
More than 80% of newborn deaths globally are due to prematurity, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, the report says. These deaths can be prevented with access to well-trained midwives, along with proven solutions like clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition. However, a shortage of well-trained health workers and midwives means that thousands don’t receive the life-saving support they need to survive. For example, while in Norway there are 218 doctors, nurses and midwives to serve 10,000 people, Madhya Pradesh, which is home to roughly the same amount of people, has about 95 practitioners for every 1 lakh people.
While the universal basic health coverage detailed in the recent budget is a step in the right direction, the report notes several other steps countries, India among them, need to take to support their most vulnerable citizens:
- Recruit, training, retain and manage sufficient numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives with expertise in maternal and newborn care;
- Guarantee clean, functional health facilities equipped with water, soap and electricity, within the reach of every mother and baby;
- Prioritize providing every mother and baby with the life-saving drugs and equipment needed for a healthy start in life; and
- Empower adolescent girls, mothers and families to demand and receive quality care.
Until we see more on this front, here are the best and worst places to be born.
Countries with the highest newborn mortality rates
- Pakistan: 1 in 22
- Central African Republic: 1 in 24
- Afghanistan: 1 in 25
- Somalia: 1 in 26
- Lesotho: 1 in 26
- Guinea-Bissau: 1 in 26
- South Sudan: 1 in 26
- Côte d’Ivoire: 1 in 27
- Mali: 1 in 28
- Chad: 1 in 28
Countries with the lowest newborn mortality rates
- Japan: 1 in 1,111
- Iceland: 1 in 1,000
- Singapore: 1 in 909
- Finland: 1 in 833
- Estonia: 1 in 769
- Slovenia: 1 in 769
- Cyprus: 1 in 714
- Belarus: 1 in 667
- Luxembourg: 1 in 667
- Norway: 1 in 667
- Republic of Korea: 1 in 667