New Delhi: India has reduced its infant mortality rate (IMR) by 42% over 11 years--from 57 per 1,000 live births in 2006 to 33 in 2017, as per the latest government data released on May 30, 2019.

Despite the reduction, India’s IMR in 2017 remained higher than the global 29.4, a rate equivalent to that of the West African nation of Senegal and higher than most South Asian neighbours’ except that of Pakistan and Myanmar.

IMR is considered a rough indicator of a country’s overall healthcare scenario. The latest data come from the Sample Registration Survey (SRS) Bulletin, which is released by office of Registrar General and Census Commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs. The last SRS bulletin was released in September 2017.

In 2017, India’s rural areas had an IMR of 37 and urban areas 23, revealing difference in healthcare quality and access despite implementation of a national programme to bridge this gap, the National Rural Health Mission, since 2005.

Source: Sample Registration Survey 2019, 2007

Among Indian states, Madhya Pradesh recorded the most number of deaths of children younger than one (IMR 47) in 2017, followed by Assam (44) and Arunachal Pradesh (42). Madhya Pradesh’s IMR was equivalent to that of the West African country Niger’s, 80% of whose land area lies in the Sahara Desert and which ranked the very last on the United Nations’ Human Development Index in 2018.

As for the Indian states that performed well, Nagaland recorded the lowest IMR of 7--corresponding to that of Kuwait and Lebanon--followed by Goa (9) and Kerala (10).

Close behind were Puducherry (11), Sikkim (12) and Manipur (12), all small states (with a population of less than 10 million), except Puducherry, which is a union territory (federally administered area).

Large improvement in some states

When compared to 2006 SRS figures for IMR, among India’s larger states (with a population larger than 10 million), New Delhi and Tamil Nadu both slashed their infant mortality rates by 57%--from 37 in 2006 to 16 in 2017.

Other states which showed similar declines were Jammu and Kashmir (-56%), Himachal Pradesh (-56%) and Punjab (-52%).

Among smaller states, Nagaland showed the most decline of 65% from 20 in 2006 to 7 in 2017, followed by smaller state Sikkim (-64%) and union territories Dadra & Nagar Haveli (-63%) and Puducherry (-61%).

Slow change in others

Similarly, states of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh are the only ones where the IMR increased between 2006 and 2017, from 11 to 12, and 40 to 42, respectively.

Uttarakhand (-5%), West Bengal (-15.8%) and Tripura (-19.4%) are states showing the slowest decline in IMR between 2006 and 2017.

Source: World Bank

Indian IMR worse than most neighbours’

India’s IMR of 33, as we said before, remained worse than that of Nepal (28), Bangladesh (27), Bhutan (26), Sri Lanka (8) and China (8), but better than that of Pakistan (61) and Myanmar (30).

Household wealth and maternal education play an important role in infant and child mortality, and states with more educated women show better health outcomes for children, IndiaSpend reported on March 20, 2017. Also, a child born in a household on the highest stratum of the wealth index was about three times more likely to survive early childhood compared to a child born in the lowest stratum, IndiaSpend reported in January 2018.

Only one third of women (35.7%) have more than ten years of schooling in India while there is high inequality where nine individuals own wealth equivalent to 50% of the country.

(Yadavar is a principal correspondent with IndiaSpend.)

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