Tackling India’s massive maternal deaths problem

Despite substantial progress, India still has the second-highest estimated number of maternal deaths in the world, according to a recent Unicef study.

Published: 12th October 2019 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th October 2019 08:04 AM   |  A+A-

Maternal Death; Hospital death

Representational image (Illustration | Amit Bandre)

Despite substantial progress, India still has the second-highest estimated number of maternal deaths in the world, according to a recent Unicef study. Nigeria and India together accounted for a whopping 35% of such deaths in 2017. A substantial 12% of the deaths were reported from India. The good news, however, is that maternal deaths have drastically reduced in India between 2010 and 2017. There’s a 61% drop in the maternal mortality rate (MMR) during the period—from 370 deaths per 100,000 births in 2010 to 145 in 2017.

The health ministry has attributed this reduction in MMR to the success of the National Health Mission (NHM). The numbers have steadily declined since the launch of the mission. “At this rate, India should reach its Sustainable Development Goals target (in this aspect) way ahead of the deadline, 2030,” the ministry told the Cabinet on Wednesday. Further, to overcome the problem of under-reporting of maternal deaths, the Centre announced an ambitious scheme this week. It plans to dole out Rs 1,000 to anyone reporting a maternal or newborn death through the government toll-free number, subject to checks and verifications. This, public health experts say, should help the government get a grasp of actual figures. 

While there has been positive action by the Centre, several states are lagging behind. The CAG released a report in July this year, which highlighted this discrepancy. Its report also said states are spending way too little on health. To address the fund crunch, the government earlier this week announced a new scheme called SUMAN, under which free healthcare benefits would be provided to pregnant women, sick newborns, and mothers for up to six months after the date of delivery. The last leg of the problem to be addressed is infrastructure. As per a recent UN report, almost three-fourths of India’s health infrastructure is concentrated in urban areas, where just over a fourth of India’s population lives. Once this gap is bridged, maternal deaths will become history.

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