[op-ed snap] Saving lives

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Unicef’s report and Janani Suraksha Yojana.

Mains level: Some possible solutions suggested in the report, for countering the issue of high neonatal mortality rate.


Report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef): “Every Child Alive”

  1. The report is on country-wise ranking of neonatal mortality rates
  2. It ranks India behind poorer countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Rwanda
  3. The ranking shows that financial resources are not the biggest constraint in improving this health indicator; political will is
  4. According to the report, average newborn mortality in low-income nations is nine times that of high-income ones

Several countries showing a way forward for India

  1. For example, Sri Lanka and Ukraine, which like India are categorised as lower-middle income economies, had a neonatal mortality of around 5/1000 in 2016
  2. In comparison, the U.S., a high-income economy, did only slightly better with a rate of 3.7/1000
  3. India saw the 31st highest newborn-mortality rate, at 25.4 deaths per 1000 in 2016, while Pakistan had the highest
  4. This means India lost 640,000 babies in 2016, more than any other country

How can we solve this problem? 

  1. The report points out that the most powerful solutions are not necessarily the most expensive
  2. The 10 critical products that hospitals must stock to save newborns include a piece of cloth to keep a baby warm and close to the mother to encourage breastfeeding
  3. The list also includes antibiotics and disinfectants, the use of which can stave off killers like sepsis and meningitis
  4. There are factors outside the healthcare system, like female literacy rates, that make a big difference to healthcare-seeking behaviour
  5. But changes in education levels will come slowly
  6. Some other solutions will need greater investment

Biggest cause of death

  1. The biggest cause of death is premature birth, while the second is complications like asphyxia during delivery
  2. Preventing these would mean paying attention to the mother’s health during pregnancy and ensuring she delivers in a hospital attended by trained doctors or midwives
  3. India has programmes such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana for this, but must expand its reach in laggard States like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh

The way forward

  1. States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu show that by focussing on these factors, newborn deaths can be brought to fewer than 15 per 1000 in Indian settings
  2. It’s time for the rest of India to follow suit
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.
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