Children growing up in poverty are nearly twice as likely to die before they turn five as compared to children growing up in better circumstances, said a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study ‘Narrowing the Gaps’, which was released on Monday.
Moreover, the study enumerates that most of these deaths could be prevented with low cost health interventions and many such reasons.
Most of these deaths could have been prevented with practical, high-impact, and for the most part, low-cost health interventions: insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria; oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoea; early immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases; primary and community-based health services such as skilled birth attendants to reduce complications during labour and delivery; early initiation of breastfeeding continuing for the first six months of life; and care-seeking by parents of young children to treat illness, the study says.
However, experts from India pointed out that it is not so much about the cost interventions, because medical services in government hospitals in India are affordable. “If we have to talk about our country’s scenario in particular, I think it is not that government hospitals don’t have affordable treatments. A lot of treatment in government hospitals is for free and they do an excellent job,” said Dr Amin Kaba, assistant paediatrician, Grant Medical College and JJ Hospital, Mumbai.
“But the problem is that people don’t trust these hospitals due to various reasons. And, by the time these families come to private hospitals, it’s too late,” he added.
Experts say that taking care of women during pregnancy could be of great help. Dr Samir Dalwai, a practicing Developmental Paediatrician at New Horizons Child Development Centre said, “It (the study) is true because these kids are born to mothers in poverty who themselves are malnourished. Hence, when they conceive, they start with deficiency of nutrients which affect them right from preconceptional stage of the foetus. This perpetuates the poor health of foetus through pregnancy and after birth.”
Dr Dalwai added, “More awareness and providing simple nutrients at the right time is the key. Furthermore, we must focus on three populations groups: children below the age of two, pregnant women and adolescent girls.”
The report has also presented the UNICEF’s 2010 study, which predicted that most of these deaths could be averted if services could be extended to the most deprived and marginalized society. Also, the estimates now predict that if the prevention mechanisms aren’t put in place by 2030, as many as 70 million children will die.
UNICEF study points that:
- Investments that increase access to high-impact health and nutrition interventions by poor groups have saved almost twice as many lives as equivalent investments in non-poor groups.
- Access to high-impact health and nutrition interventions has improved rapidly among poor groups in recent years, leading to substantial improvements in equity.
- During the period studied, absolute reductions in under-five mortality rates associated with improvements in intervention coverage were three times faster among poor groups than non-poor groups. Because birth rates were higher among the poor, the reduction in the under-five mortality rate translated into 4.2 times more lives saved for every 1 million people.
- Indeed, of the 1.1 million lives saved across the 51 countries during the final year studied for each country, nearly 85 per cent were among the poor.
- An equity-enhancing approach to child survival can also help break intergenerational cycles of poverty. When children are healthy, they are better able to learn in school and can earn more as adults.