Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lost mothers of India

Avoidable complications during child birth are killing 78,000 women in India every year. This means on an average, one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth every seven minutes. 

On the other hand, one million children born in India are dying every year even before they become 28 days old. A child born in India is 14 times more likely to die during the first 28 days than one born in the US or UK. 

These are some of the shocking findings of UNICEF's `State of the World's Children 2009' report released on Thursday. 

According to the report, an Indian woman is 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than women in America or England. For every mother who dies, 20 others suffer pregnancy-related illness. Around 10 million women annually experience such adverse outcomes. 

Despite an increase in institutional deliveries, 60% of pregnant women still deliver their babies at home. 

In India, more than two-thirds of all maternal deaths occur in a handful of states -- UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Assam. 

In UP, one in every 42 women faces risk of maternal death, compared to 1 in 500 women in Kerala. 

As far as neonatal deaths (within the first 28 days of life ) are concerned, the worst-off states include Orissa (52 deaths per 1,000 live births), MP (51), UP (46), Rajasthan (45), and Chhattisgarh (43). 

The report points out that babies whose mothers die during the first six weeks of their lives are more likely to die in the first two years of life. "For every 100 children born in the world, 20 are from India. For every 100 children who die globally, 22 die in India," UNICEF India chief Karin Hulshof said. 

According to her, the health and survival of mothers and their newborns are intrinsically linked. "Many of the same interventions that save maternal lives also benefit their infants. Even though India has cut its under-five mortality rate from 117 per 1,000 live births to 72 between 1990 and 2007, neonatal deaths contribute to 50% of these under-five deaths," Karin added. 

According to the report, three-quarters of all maternal deaths in India occur from complications either during delivery or in the immediate post-partum period. 

A quarter of the world's unattended deliveries take place in India, which is one of 10 countries which together account for two-thirds of births not attended by skilled health workers. 

The report also points to India's shameful statistics regarding breastfeeding. Experts say universalisation of early breastfeeding, within one hour of birth, would reduce neonatal mortality in India by 22% while universalisation of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life would avert nearly 16% of young child deaths. 

However, the report says only one in four children are breastfed within one hour of birth. 

Annually, around 6 million children born in India have low birth weight. 

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