Aarti Dhar

NEW DELHI: A new study published in medical journal Lancet on accelerating decline in the deaths of children under five years between 2000 and 2010 as compared to 1990-2000 has got its figures wrong on India, says Save the Children, a non-governmental organisation.

According to the Lancet report, across 21 regions of the world, rates of neonatal, post-neonatal, and childhood mortality are declining.

The study also claims that worldwide, deaths of children under five years have dropped from 11.9 million in 1990 to an estimated 7.7 million in 2010.

Using a technique called the Gaussian Process Regression, the authors of the study claim that under-five mortality in India has come down from 84.6 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 62.6 per 1,000 live births in 2010. “This would mean a 22 per 1,000 decline in under-five mortality, which is incredibly good news. Unfortunately, this is a misleading picture of the reality,” CEO of the NGO Thomas Chandy said.

“The authors of the study have used a technique that works better at providing estimates where there is limited or no data. The Sample Registration System (SRS) Statistical Report 2008, places under-five mortality in the country at 69 per 1,000 live births. The SRS 2008 findings, matched by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates, are based on a sample size of 7.10 million in India as a whole, with even the small States given a coverage of more than 1,00,000.

“The sample size of the SRS, which is arguably the largest in the world, helps provide robust estimates of health indicators and is more acceptable than an extrapolated figure arrived at by the study which is seven points less,” he said.

By adopting a lower and unsubstantiated rate of under-5 mortality, we are, in effect, underreporting the deaths of several hundred thousands of children. “Believing that we have made a rapid decline in the number of deaths of children under 5 will lead to a false sense of complacency. This would be foolhardy at a time when we should be stepping up our efforts to prevent the needless deaths of children under 5. If saving the lives of millions of children were seen as less of a problem, budgetary commitments to the issue will slacken,” Mr. Chandy warned.

According to the UNICEF and SRS estimates, 1.83 million children under 5 die every year in the country. But, on the basis of the study published in the Lancet, only 1.64 million children under 5 die annually in India.

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