04 November 2011
By Durgesh Nandan Jha
New Delhi India
The state government’s claims of better child healthcare lie exposed. Between 2009 and 2010, the infant mortality rate (children dying within the first year of birth) has increased 18.5% – from 18.96 per thousand to 22.47 per thousand. At the same time, the number of still-births has almost doubled. Experts say the collapse of the public health system is to blame.
“This is shocking. Delhi should be the role model but it is clearly lagging behind states like Goa and Kerala, where the infant mortality rate is less than 12 per thousand. In my view, high influx of migrants, who are mostly poor and have least access to good food and healthcare, is the main reason for this. Food prices have gone up and many poor expectant mothers are not able to fulfill their nutrition needs. Their children are born with low birth weight and remain malnourished, which is the main reason for infant mortality. Malnourished children are predisposed to infections and other diseases,” said Mira Shiva, founder, People’s Health Movement and coordinator of Initiative for Health and Equity in Society.
She said the government is promoting institutional childbirth with the introduction of new schemes such as ‘Janani Suraksha Yojna’, but infrastructure required for these remains poor. “In most maternity centres, infection rates are high due to lack of hygiene. The number of doctors and nurses is low,” said Shiva.
Child rights activist Raaj Mangal Prasad said the increased rate of infant mortality is reflective of the collapse of the public health system. “Public sector hospitals are overburdened. Private sector has grown significantly but that is inaccessible to a large population. Many people in slums still go to quacks for treatment,” he added. Delhi Medical Council’s anti–quackery cell in its recent inspections held across all nine districts found 150 quacks operating in slums and unauthorized colonies.
Dr VK Paul, head of pediatrics at AIIMS, added that there is too much pressure on big government hospitals in Delhi. “We need to strengthen infrastructure at mediumsized hospitals in Malviya Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar, East-Delhi, among others. Delhi should be the role model for the country for providing quality healthcare to everyone, including the large migratory population,” he said.
The provisional data on ‘birth, death and infant mortality rates in Delhi’ was released by the Delhi government on Thursday. State heath minister AK Walia said the increase in infant mortality was mainly due to increasing influx of migrants. “At least 40% of these deaths are of infants brought to city hospitals at the terminal stage,” he said.