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Children’s Day: Taking a glance at the health of Indian Children

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This Children’s Day we bring to you a III part series on issues faced by Indian Children


Part I of III (Health)

Children’s Day reminds of fancy dress competition and chocolate distribution at school to most of us who as kids had the privilege of enjoying education. But today when I think of Children’s Day, I start pondering over the millions underserved children of the nation.

Many programmes are held across the country to celebrate Children’s Day on November 14 every year fondly remembering Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of the independent India.

But while we celebrate the day, a gaudy picture appears painting the utterly depressing state of children in India. According to UNICEF, one million children die every year in India under the age of five years. Saddening further is the fact that they die due to problems that are absolutely preventable. The figures are alarming, and cry for immediate consideration.

Children Day leadMalnutrition is responsible directly or indirectly for 35% of deaths among children under five. Thus it becomes very important to handle malnutrition to reduce child mortality.

Major factor that leads to poor health of children is mothers’ health. With patriarchal society in place, girls are less wanted and less cared for. According to UNICEF, 55% Indian women are anaemic and 36% of Indian women are chronically under-nourished from childhood itself.

Karin Hulshof, a UNICEF Country Representative and a member of panel on Under-nutrition and Gender in India chaired by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in his speech states three reasons why child under-nutrition is a matter of gender,

“1. Under-nourishment affects women more than it affects men due to the specific nutrition needs of women during adolescence, pregnancy, and lactation. 2. Widespread nutrition deprivation among women perpetuates an inter-generational cycle of nutrition deprivation in children. Undernourished girls grow up to become undernourished women who give birth to a new generation of undernourished children.
3. Women are given the responsibility – but often not the means (empowerment) – to ensure optimal nutrition for their children. A recent study in Andhra Pradesh shows that women with higher autonomy (both financial and physical, for example – the freedom to go to the market) are less likely to have stunted children.”

A mother with her malnourished child
A mother with her malnourished child

This inter-generational cycle that starts with under-nourished mother is dangerous for the long term development dreams of India as malnourished children are prone to suffer from infection and are also at risk of dying from common childhood diseases like diarrhoea, measles and malaria among others. Also these kids are unable to do well in education and as adults tend to earn lower wages.

Hulshof further says, “The prevention and treatment of child under-nutrition in the first two years of life needs to become a national development priority.”

While it becomes clearly evident that children need utmost attention without any delay, the government efforts look to be lagging behind. In February, government had slashed social sector budgets to incorporate infrastructural expenses to fasten the pace of economic growth. Budget of Women and Child Welfare Ministry was slashed by half to $1.6 billion in February. An additional amount of $618 million was approved in July, but the amount looks to be insufficient.

Partial or no vaccination is another reason why children under the age of five are vulnerable and at risk of dying as compared to fully immunised children. Government of India launched Mission Indradhanush in December 2014, aiming to vaccinate pregnant women and children under the age of two and immunise them. The Mission focuses on 201 districts across the country which have the highest number of partially immunised and unimmunised children.

According to figures mentioned on www.missionindradhanush.in, the official website of the project, five lakh children die every year due to vaccine preventable diseases. And another 89 lakh children remain at risk, because they are either unimmunised or partially immunised against vaccine-preventable diseases.

A child being administered vaccination under Mission Indradhanush
A child being administered vaccination under Mission Indradhanush

According to a report prepared by Save The Children and PwC India, “In health matters, although we have witnessed an improvement in mortality rates from the previous decade, data indicates that all childhood mortality indicators among the urban poor (under-5 mortality rate, infant mortality rate, and neonatal mortality rate) are higher as compared to the overall urban averages. Immunisation coverage has improved in urban areas but the birth order continues to be a hindrance. Children living in slums are 1.3 times more likely to suffer from diarrhoea than in non-slum areas. Though the urban population in India has better access to sanitation, coverage is failing to keep up with the population growth — one in five households in India does not have a household toilet.”

Speaking to The wp Journal, Sandhya Krishnan, State Program Manager, Save The Children says, “The first 1000 days of a child’s life are very crucial. If it is ensured that children are taken care of very well in the first 1000 days, the number of children surviving up to five years and above increases manifold.”

Many corporate firms are working in the field of child care and malnutrition but with the vast scale of necessity, more funds and more streamlined efforts can bring in desired results in a shorter period of time. “We need to work with community, government and other civil society organisations to address this issue. wp funds help a lot but changing rural areas’ status may take time considering the reach of wp funds,” Krishnan adds.