Toronto: India has averted nearly one million deaths of children under five years of age since 2005, owing to a significant decrease in deaths from preventable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, tetanus and measles, according to a study, led by a researcher of Indian-origin.
The decline began accelerating in 2005 and was fastest between 2010 and 2015 in urban areas and richer states.
However, nearly three times that number could have been saved if national progress in child health matched that level in some states, said lead researcher Prabhat Jha, head of the Centre for Global Health Research of St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
The study, published in the journal Lancet, found a 3.3 per cent annual decline in mortality rates of neonates (infants less than one month old) and 5.4 per cent for those in the age-group from one month to 59 months.
This was largely due to a reduction in mortality rates from neonatal tetanus and measles which fell by at least 90 per cent, and neonatal infection and birth trauma that declined more than 66 per cent.
For children ages one to 59 months, mortality rates from pneumonia and diarrhoea fell more than 60 per cent.
Per 1,000 live births, the mortality rates among neonates fell from 45 in 2000 to 27 in 2015. The one-59 month mortality rate fell from 45.2 to 19.6.
Improved rates of female literacy, schemes that encourage women to give birth in hospitals and increased spending on public health by the Indian government have all contributed to the falling death rates, the researchers said.
For the research, hundreds of specially trained census staff in India, where most deaths occur at home and without medical attention, knocked on doors of more than 1.3 million homes to conduct “verbal autopsies” or interview household members about deaths.
In order to achieve more reduction in the number of neonatal deaths, efforts need to be directed to decrease deaths caused by premature delivery and low birth-weight, especially in poorer states, Mr Jha said.