16 lakh children below age 5 die each year in India


Being an Indian and below 5 years of age is a rather dangerous prospect right now. The odds seem to be piling up against Indian toddlers — a recent Unicef report has claimed that 16.55 lakh below-5 kids die each year in the nation, leading the world in child mortality.

According to the ‘Child Mortality Estimates Report 2012’, India’s under-five death toll is higher than the deaths in Nigeria, Congo and Pakistan put together.

The killer diseases may be many — pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria figure as the top causes of death; but it all boils down to the nutrition of the mothers during pregnancy, and that given to the baby, say experts here.

“In Tamil Nadu, around 45 per cent of under-five children are underweight with mild to moderate malnutrition, and 5 per cent are severely malnourished.

When these kids catch a viral infection or even diarrhea, they lose further weight and develop micronutrient deficiencies.

Unless they are given special attention and nutritious food, they will not be able to recuperate from infections,” says Dr Sharadha Suresh, technical advisor to the Child Health Committee of the NRHM.

“Up to one year of age, most babies are healthy as they receive mothers’ milk, which is rich in iron and all other essential nutrients. The weaning stage is when the problem starts.

Mothers do not feed them greens or carrots; these kids survive on cow’s milk, rice and small quantities of high-calorie foods that their parents consume.

Many mothers are unable to provide food according to the baby’s taste, they are also unsure of how often to feed them,” she adds.

Strangely enough, malnutrition was identified as a major problem 20 years ago, and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) was tasked with improving the nutrition status in the country.

“ The ICDS started off very well, but they have now lost their plot,” quips a senior pediatrician from a southern district in Tamil Nadu.

170 million children Undernourished, says research

Despite the various health schemes implemented by the state government for the welfare of children, a quarter of young children around the state are not getting enough nutrients to grow properly, and malnutrition remains the main cause of deaths among most kids warn nutrition experts.

There are 170 million children below five years whose development has been stunted by malnutrition because of lack of food and their breastfeeding mothers, and the situation is getting significantly worse, according to research by the charity Save the Children.

“Malnutrition is a silent killer because it is often not recorded as a cause of death on birth certificates, leading to a lack of action across the developing world,” says Ameer, co-convener of People’s health movement in Tamil Nadu.

Most malnourished children, around 85 per cent, do not die but are diminished, physically and mentally.

This has an adverse impact on their education and other physical activities.

Elaborating on the consequences of malnutrition, dietician Kumudha Ravindran says that the mothers have to be healthy in order for the children to be healthy.

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