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Infant mortality rises as Delhi gets ready for games

Apr 06, 2010

While there has been some headway in tackling child mortality in rural areas, the number of children under five dying in India’s capital has been on the rise. The city is investing crores to make the Commonwealth Games work and yet, no efforts are made to advance urban health care.

New Delhi, April 6: Despite being one of the fastest growing cities in India at an average 8.8% , the number of children under five dying in Delhi has been on the rise. The nation’s capital epitomises the challenges of urbanisation for public health, the theme for World Health Day tomorrow.

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“There is a stark dichotomy here. On the one hand, Delhi has a good health infrastructure with excellent health facilities, which are, in fact, better than other parts of the country. For instance, it is possible to have a heart transplant here, at a cost. Yet, the urban poor cannot access even the most basic of health care facilities,” said Thomas Chandy, CEO, Save the Children.

There has been a tremendous increase in the city’s population largely due to continuous migration from other cities in India which, in turn, has placed a huge pressure on social and health services.  Much of the migrant population ends up in slums making up almost 20% of the city’s population.

Delhi is getting ready to host the prestigious Commonwealth Games later this year.

Thousands of crores are being pumped into getting the city ready for the Games. “Yet, we have the cruel paradox of children dying because they do not have access to safe, clean drinking water, one of the most basic amenities surely for a city with huge aspirations,” Chandy said.  The infant mortality rate in Delhi has increased between 2003 and 2008 from 28 to 34 per 1000 live births.  Diarrhoea is the major cause of death among children accounting for almost 60% of the deaths.

The Economic Survey of Delhi 2008 points out that one in four households in Delhi does not have piped water supply and one out of five households do not have a toilet. Only 45.5% of children under 6 have access to an Integrated Child Development Services centre. The percentage of underweight and malnourished children among Delhi’s urban poor is almost double (45.9%) than that among non urban poor.

Delhi is a critical case in point of why the Government must revive the now shelved National Urban Health Mission.  India has made a commitment to reducing under five mortality by two-thirds by 2015. While the NRHM has made some headway in tackling child mortality in rural areas, the need for a similar programme for the urban poor is immediate.  “We cannot afford to have a programme to deliver health care to the rural poor while diarrhoea and malnutrition are quietly wiping out generations of children in the national capital,” Chandy said.

He added: “It is tragic that this ambitious national programme to deliver quality urban health care to the country’s urban poor has been deferred since 2008.  What is the reason for the delay? The Health Ministry must show that it has the political will to take on the issue of urban health care and make public what the NUHM entails.”

Notes:

1.    Almost 20% of the total population of Delhi lives in slums, the second highest slum population in India.

2.    There is a huge gap in the under five mortality between the urban poor (73. 6 per 1000 births) and the urban rich (41.8 per 1000 births)

3.    Only 4.2% of Delhi’s urban poor women get adequate antenatal care; 51.4% of them are anaemic.

4.    Only 16% of these women give birth in institutions.

5.    Only 63.2% of children in Delhi get full immunisation (NFHS-III) cpmpared to 69.8%(NFHS-II)

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