Rajasthan may achieve population goal

There has been a fall in infertility level, rise in marriage age and better antenatal care However, certain grey areas remain -- continuing high level of infant mortality and poor immunisation of children

Special Correspondent

JAIPUR: There is good news on the population front for Rajasthan on the eve of the World Population Day (July 11) as the latest studies indicate that the State is inching towards the goal of population stabilisation by the year 2016, or even before.

Since the State adopted its Population Policy five years ago there has been a perceptible decline in the infertility level, rise in marriage age and improvement in antenatal coverage of women for safe deliveries.

The tribal districts, which cover one-fifth of Rajasthan's population, have done remarkably well in the areas of eligible couples using some method of family planning, age at the time of marriage for girls and in deliveries by trained attendant -- some of the objectives set forth in the Population Policy. The period between 1999 and 2004 saw large increases in safe deliveries in the desert districts as well.

The declining trend in fertility has accelerated recently -- so much so that Rajasthan has already crossed the benchmark set for the year 2007 with a TFR (total fertility rate) of 3.01. From a TFR of 4.11 in 1997, the State registered a decline in the fertility level to 3.78 in 1999 and to 3.41 in 2004.

According to RCH Survey (Reproductive and Child Health Surveys 1999, 2004), quoted by the analysts, the proportion of eligible couples using some kind of contraceptive went up from 38 per cent in the State in 1999 to 45.10 per cent in 2004. The increase in the use of contraception was almost universal in the State but the maximum increase had been noticed in the tribal districts.

However, certain grey areas remain. One such is the continuing high level of infant mortality and poor immunisation of children, the study, conducted by R.S. Goyal and Govind Madhav of the Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR), says. Until 1999, the IMR (infant mortality rate) in Rajasthan was 80.4 (per 1000 live births) while in 2004 it stood at 64.4, though Dr.Goyal thinks it could be hovering above 70 now. This is against a goal of 56 IMR in 2016.

"The programme efforts to bring down the IMR had some initial success but in the 1990s it almost remained static," the study observes.

The proportion of full immunisation of children, instead of going up, went down from 36.9 per cent to 25.9 per cent, even while children's access to ORS (oral re-hydration solution) during diarrhoea increased from 4.56 per cent to 29.78 per cent between 1999 and 2004. "On the immunisation coverage of children the State has performed poorly,'' Dr.Goyal points out.

Perhaps the most heartening development for the planners in a State much maligned with the reports of child marriages is the decline in the marriage age of girls. While the Population Policy of the State has called for efforts to increase minimum age of marriage of girls to 18 years by 2010, it was almost near that goal in 2004 itself with 17.4 years.

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