09/19/2018, 18.54
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Infant deaths in India drop to just over 800,000 in 2017 but estimates are unreliable

This is the lowest number in five years. However, what happens in villages, where women do not have access to medical care, may not be counted. Sex-specific abortions have also dropped because doctors could go to prison if they declare the sex of the newborn.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – In 2017, there were “only” 802,000 infant deaths in India, the lowest number in five years, this according to the latest report by the United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UNIGME).

The report, which was released yesterday, was welcomed in Indian media, which noted the significant drop in in child mortality. In 2016, there were 867,000 infant deaths.

However, Fr Milton Gonsalves, executive secretary of the Family Commission of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) of Latin rite, sounds a note of caution. “We cannot trust these figures because in rural villages many women still do not have access to medical care and do not go to hospital for checks during pregnancy. Many births take place at home and we do not really know how many new-borns survive."

The report by UNICEF, World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Population Division and the World Bank also notes that, last year, India had at least 605,000 neonatal deaths whilst the number of deaths for children aged between 5 and 14 stood at 152,000.

"The efforts for improving institutional delivery, along with countrywide scale up of special newborn care units and strengthening of routine immunisation, have been instrumental towards this," said Yasmin Ali Haque, Representative, UNICEF India

However, the situation of pregnant women in the more remote villages "is different from that of big cities,” said Fr Gonsalves. Rural women “re often forced to travel several kilometres on foot to go to the hospital, and in the end, many decide not to consult a doctor.

“If the report's data come from the government, and were thus collected by the hospitals, it is very likely that they do not include the deaths that occur in the villages. This is why the number of infant deaths could be much higher."

For the clergyman, "This is where the work of the Church comes in. We have several programmes to support pregnant women and we try to make them understand the importance of prenatal checks. We are also involved in educating families and supporting couples."

Overall, the 2017 report estimates that about 6.3 million children under the age of 15 died worldwide, one every five seconds. Over half of the deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa and 30 per cent in South Asia.

Experts note that most of these deaths are preventable if more is done to limit their causes, such as complications during birth, pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and infections.

The study highlights that the gender gap at birth also dropped in India. Sex-specific under-five mortality rate was 39 in 1,000 for male and 40 in 1,000 for females.

This is important in a country where prenatal sex tests and selective abortions are still widespread, despite the 1994 Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, which bans them.

"The problem is that Indian society still considers women as a burden,” said Fr Rayarala Vijay Kumar, PIME superior in India. “When a baby girl is born, it is a concern for families. Fathers pay for their education and for their dowry to the family of the future husband. In the end, women do not even work after marriage and do not put to good use the education they received."

"In all likelihood, the drop in the number of aborted girls stems from the fact that doctors cannot reveal the sex of the unborn child because, if they do, they risk heavy fines and even imprisonment. The real solution would be to change the Indian mindset and the country’s culture."

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