Is India One Of the Worst Countries To Be Born In?

50% children in India are anaemic

Published
Health News
4 min read
India has the largest adolescent population but one out of two girls suffers from anaemia and 3 out of 10 teenage boys suffer from the same (Photo: iStock)

It doesn’t get any more alarming than this.

More than 50% of children in around 10 Indian states are anaemic. And it’s not just children, more than half of the women in 11 states were found to be suffering from a severe iron deficiency. These are the results of the first phase of the National Family Health Survey-4 (NHFS) of 2015-16.

The bright side, however, is that a majority of the states show an overall improvement in the health of its people over the last decade. But is that enough?

Indian Children Are the Most Malnourished in the World

 (Photo: iStock altered by The Quint)
(Photo: iStock altered by The Quint)

India has the largest adolescent population but one out of two girls suffers from anaemia and 3 out of 10 teenage boys suffer from the same.

Indian children are the most malnourished in the world. Our malnourishment rates are worse than most African countries, Afghanistan and even Pakistan. The NHFS-4 found that 4 in 10 kids in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Meghalaya were stunted in growth due to poor nutrition. Yet malnourishment comes under the spotlight only when there is a large-scale tragedy; it’s never recognised as a tragedy in itself.

The newborn health challenge faced by India is still at a critical stage, much bigger than that experienced by most countries.

Take the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for example.

Set in the year 2000, the MDGs which expired in December 2015, are a crude reminder of India’s failure to achieve 60% of the targets it set for itself at the start of the millennium.

The country accounts for the very high burden of newborn deaths in the world. Nearly 9 lakh newborns die each year in India alone (2013: United Nations estimates) and this makes up for a third of the total burden of neonatal deaths in the world and a staggering 54% of under-5 deaths in India.

UN: Every 10 minutes a Woman Dies in India During Childbirth

Mothers Index: The best and the worst countries to be a mother in. Blue countries are best for mothers, red countries are worst and purple are somewhere in the middle (Photo: Save the Children)
Mothers Index: The best and the worst countries to be a mother in. Blue countries are best for mothers, red countries are worst and purple are somewhere in the middle (Photo: Save the Children)

India is in the bottom-ranked countries to be a mother in. Around 60,000 women lose their life in childbirth-related complications, every year.

Fathom this: even after 68 years of independence, our maternal mortality rates are worse than those of Nigeria. And the shame doesn’t end there. We account for a fifth of global maternal deaths despite a significant decline in maternal mortality rates between 2005 and 2010.

(Photo: iStock altered by The Quint)
(Photo: iStock altered by The Quint)

Maternal and child health doesn’t get a chunky part of the (measly) Union health budget, nor does it get the global health attention it should, which is otherwise eclipsed by diseases like, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Related Read: With more than 40% children severely malnourished, why has the mid-day meal scheme, providing food to 10 crore children, remained strictly vegetarian?

More than 3 Lakh Babies Die Every Year Within 24 Hours of Birth

That’s 847 per day.

India makes up for a THIRD of all first-day deaths of neonates in the world. Moreover, India has the largest number of child deaths (16 lakh) under the age of five years than any other country.

Over half a million children die in India before their fifth birthday because of severe acute malnutrition, according to the Indian Academy of Paediatrics. One child dies every minute.

India’s progress has been below the mark on parameters of poverty, child and maternal mortality and access to improved sanitation (Photo: iStock)
India’s progress has been below the mark on parameters of poverty, child and maternal mortality and access to improved sanitation (Photo: iStock)

Currently, government policies to tackle child malnutrition are fragmented across ministries. There is no policy to identify and treat severely malnourished children in the country - to frame a policy would mean the government accepts malnutrition as a failure, among many others.

The country’s failure to combat hunger in the first eight-millennium development goals and the unlikelihood of achieving it by 2015, implies that our poverty figures are much worse than those of Bangladesh and Nigeria, two countries far less developed than India. (2012: 33% of the world’s extremely poor lived in India, while 8.9% in Nigeria and 5% in Bangladesh)

The scourge of open defecation and lack of clean drinking water are other basic issues which can save millions of lives.

Access to toilets can’t hurt, unlike the chronic, acute shame, embarrassment and fear that Indian women and girls must deal with at least once a day, every day when they defecate in the open.

In a recent United Nation’s global health development index, India was ranked 135 out of 187 countries. After 68 years of independence, that’s very concerning for a nation with a global ambition.

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