Over a hundred infant deaths just in a month’s time at a government-run hospital in Kota are a national shame. They make a statement: India is no country for newborn babies. The ineffable joy of childbirth is lost when a neonate dies. As a nation, we seem to have become desensitised to infant deaths. Registering the highest number of infant deaths in the world is a dubious record that India should not have let itself have.
The central and state governments try to evade responsibility for the infant deaths for which both should take the blame in equal measure. Political sparring is no substitute to remedial action. It is poor consolation to say that infant mortality rate has been on the decline over the years when it still figures around 30 per 1,000 live births. We must admit that infant deaths constitute one of the serious challenges we face.
It is not merely a question of poor medical facilities, inadequate medical staff and medical negligence, though all of these must be addressed on a priority basis. Pre-term complications malformations infections and asphyxia are identified and cited as the main clinical causes for infant deaths. They are certainly among the immediate and detectable causes.
At the same time, there are also deeper causes that increase the vulnerability of infants to death. Babies born in impoverished and “low caste” families suffer from low birth weight and health risks without a fight. It is a self-evident truth that the nutritional status of the mother and the newborn is of vital importance for survival. Food security is assured only by better financial resources. Access to clean water, sanitation and better living conditions in a pollution-free environment matter brighten the chances of survival. In regions where caste holds a sway, the rate of infant mortality is greater. Another fact is that lower maternal age, say below 20, invites the risk of neonatal mortality.
Economic empowerment of poor families and improvement of their quality of life are the lasting remedies for infant deaths. As a nation, if we are to be really “pro-life”, we have to do all that is humanly possible to end preventable child morbidity and mortality.
G David Milton, Maruthancode
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