It is sad that low birthweight and premature births are the top cause of death among new-born babies in India under a study done by a newspaper group based on data gathered by the Registrar General of India. While the number of deaths per thousand population was 12.3 under the category of low birthweight/prematurity in 2000 it went up to 14.3 per thousand in 2015. This was one yardstick under which there has been a marked deterioration. It goes without saying that the Union Ministry of Health and medical experts need to ponder over it and come up with solutions.
Among the factors cited are poor nutrition of mothers, under-age motherhood and inadequate pre-natal care which point to gender discrimination and neglect of pregnant women. The problem is particularly acute in the rural areas where prematurity or low birthweight mortality rates rose from 13.2 per 1,000 livebirths to 17 in 2015. The Million Death Study done by the Registrar General of India was done on the basis of ‘verbal autopsies.’
As per the study, the problem of prematurity or low birthweight was particularly acute in Madhya Pradesh, U.P., Rajasthan, Bihar, Punjab and Haryana but it was distinctly better in Odisha, Assam and most of the richer states. Evidently, the poorer states are not paying adequate attention to the nutrition angle and to pre-natal care.
These statistics come in the face of those that show that a million child deaths have been averted in the 15-year period which reflects that while infant mortality is high due to low birthweight and prematurity deaths, child mortality rates have substantially reduced, which is a silver lining. The key to this lies in addressing malnutrition, particularly among would-be mothers and in ensuring ante-natal check-ups regularly and at right times. All in all, the study has thrown up some stark facts and it is to be hoped that the survey’s findings would increase the level of awareness especially in the states which still have much to do to improve the situation.