India needs to make major strides on health front: Unicef

August 5th, 2008 - 7:33 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 5 (IANS) India and China need to make strides on the health front to help the world achieve the millennium development goals (MDGs), Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund) said Tuesday in a fresh report. The report ‘State of the Asia Pacific’s Children Report 2008′, said: “It is a fundamental truth that unless India achieves major improvements in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, gender equality and child protection, global efforts to reach the MDGs will fail.”

China too needs to make significant strides to regain early progress it made in child survival. “Global achievement of the health related MDGs depends largely on India’s success and on China accelerating progress even further,” the report mentions.

Without improved health care, 13 of the Asia-Pacific countries will struggle to reduce their child mortality and maternal mortality rates by two-thirds, a target that the UN has marked as health MDG.

At least 2.5 million child deaths occur in these two countries every year - accounting for nearly a third of all child deaths in the world. While 2.1 million children die in India every year, the number is 415,000 in China.

In India, the maternal mortality rate too is very high with at least 301 mothers out of every 100,000 dying during childbirth.

The report, however, mentions that the region’s robust economic growth, the fastest in the world since 1990, has lifted millions out of poverty.

Child survival, regarded by Unicef as a key test of a nation’s progress in human development and child rights, has improved considerably.

“But gains have been overshadowed by deepening disparities, which means that health care often fails to reach the poorest.”

The report underscores a disturbing trend across the region - public health expenditure remains well below the world average of 5.1 percent of the GDP.

While South Asia including India spends only 1.1 percent of GDP on health, it is 1.9 percent in the rest of Asia-Pacific.

In addition, as more services within countries are privatised and the government share of health budget diminishes, public facilities become more run down and health workers leave for better-paid jobs in the private sector or outside the country.

“The divide between rich and poor is rising at a troubling rate within sub-regions of Asia-Pacific, leaving vast numbers of mothers and children at risk of increasing relative poverty and continued exclusion from quality primary health-care services,” the report says.

Pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition are the major causes of child death in the region. But vast inequities in income, geography, gender and ethnicity are essentially what stand in the way of children surviving and thriving.

While taking note of the low prevalence of baby birth in hospitals, underweight mothers are making the situation more complicated.

“In India one out of every three women is underweight putting them at risk of having low birth weight babies, and these babies are 20 times more likely to die in infancy than healthy babies.”

As the world has moved past the half way mark and into the final lap towards the MDGs with a 2015 deadline, what is needed now is political will and sound strategies to dramatically increase investment in public health services that specifically target the poorest and most marginalised, it said.

Without improved health care, 13 of the Asia-Pacific countries will struggle to reduce the child mortality rates by two-thirds, a target that the UN has marked as health MDG.

The Unicef said in the report that countries like India must increase their public health expenditure by two more percent of the GDP to boost healthcare facilities for the poor and underprivileged.

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