Even in cities like Delhi, there are large pockets of healthcare deserts: new research

Over 55 per cent of children in the age group 0-2 do not receive comprehensive immunisation in the country and approximately 2.7 million children under five do not receive any treatment for diarrhoea, a major killer of children.

Among 25 developing countries, India has the highest number of children who do not receive even the most basic of healthcare services, according to new research by Save the Children. It also has the highest number of children under five dying every year.

Thomas Chandy, CEO, Save the Children, said: “The latest Sample Registration Data released in India shows that infant mortality has declined to 50 per 1,000 which is good but this obscures the larger picture. The existence of ‘healthcare deserts' shows that efforts to reduce child mortality are still sidelining the poorest children and this denial of basic healthcare is leaving them vulnerable to fatal conditions.”

Close to 1.2 million children under the age of one die every year in India of largely treatable and even preventable diseases and conditions. “Ironically, in cities like Delhi, large pockets can be classified as healthcare deserts where no primary health care is available for the urban poor.”

A healthcare desert refers to an existence where a child has not received any of the six routine immunisations including for killer diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, or treatment for a recent bout of diarrhoea. The new research shows that there are healthcare deserts in 25 developing countries, where up to one-third of all children do not receive vaccinations for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, or even basic treatment for diarrhoea. In some instances, areas are too remote and unreached by healthcare services. In most cases, the term ‘healthcare desert' describes a situation where services are unfamiliar, unknown, unaffordable, unavailable, or of such poor quality that people are not using them.

Worker shortage

A severe shortage of healthcare workers fuels the existence of healthcare deserts. Access to healthcare and healthcare workers are crucial to keeping more children alive. Diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria — all largely preventable and treatable with adequate medical care — account for 40 per cent of under-five deaths with a further 36 per cent of deaths caused by neo-natal complications and infections.

Over 250 organisations including White Ribbon Alliance, Merlin, Every Mother Counts and Save the Children have come together to call for urgent action for more health workers, better supported. For the two months prior to the United Nations General Assembly meetings in September, the organisations will build pressure on global leaders to deal with the health worker shortfall and make new commitments for supporting health workers.