India’s progress in health outcomes dismal: UN report

The under-five mortality rate in the country still stands at 43 per 1,000 live births

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Friday 12 July 2019
Photo: Vinoth Chandar/Flickr
Photo: Vinoth Chandar/Flickr Photo: Vinoth Chandar/Flickr

While there has been an improvement in poverty rates in India in the last 10 years, progress in health outcomes in the country seems to be lagging, according to the 2018 global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

India (37.9 per cent) has the second-highest stunting rate followed by Pakistan (45 per cent), among the middle-income countries in Asia. Myanmar (29.4 per cent), Nepal (36 per cent) and Bangladesh (36.2 per cent) have lower rates.

“The trajectories to achieve targets in reducing stunting suggest that a rate of reduction of 4.9 per cent is required to achieve the World Health Summit targets (40 per cent reduction in stunting prevalence till 2025) or the targets set by UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goal by 2030,” according to a latest report on malnutrition. It highlighted major gaps in nutrition programmes of India.

The MPI report also paints a worrying picture of prevalance of child mortality in India. The under-five mortality rate in the country still stands at 43 per 1,000 live births.

While Myanmar, Pakistan have shown no improvement, Nepal and Bangladesh were successful in bringing down their respective rates to 34 per 1,000 live births each. 

Most of these deaths in India happened from preventable causes, finds a study based upon data from eight states in the country.

It also showed that the survival of children from the same illness varies between different states, indicating that it is linked to equitable access and consistent availability of services in those states.

Further, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) also show India in a poor light, according to the UN report. India scores the worst among all the four Asian nations in the middle-income group.

As many as 18.8 persons per 1,000 people live in areas vulnerable to malaria in India. Bangladesh has the least (0.6 per 1,000 people) number of people living in such areas, while Pakistan has the highest (10.6 per 1,000 people).

Myanmar has 7.2 persons per 1,000 people and Nepal accounts for 0.9 persons per 1,000 people in areas vulnerable to malaria.

In India, TB affects 211 people per 10,000 people exposed to the disease. This also includes new and relapse cases of TB, stated the report.

Pakistan has 268 people per 10,000 people exposed to the disease, Myanmar 361 and Nepal 154.

Despite this, the allocation of health expenditure in the country is far behind UN target, the report found. 

India spends a total of 3.9 per cent of GDP (including public and private expenditure) on health, the second-lowest compared to other Asian countries in the middle-income group. While Myanmar spends 4.9 per cent of GDP, Nepal spends 6.9 and Pakistan spends 2.7 per cent.

“There is still a long way to go before the target of public health expenditure is achieved and the central allocation for health for 2019-20 was far short of target,” said the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in its latest report. It reminded the government for the need to augment budgetary allocation on public health.

“In states, health spending as a percentage of total states expenditure, ranged from 3.29 to 5.32 per cent which shows that this need considerable augmentation,” CAG said in its report.

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