In India's showpiece capital, the number of children dying within the first year of birth has almost doubled in the past two years, according to the Delhi government's own statistics. Data released in the Economic Survey of Delhi for 2008-2009 shows that the infant mortality rate in 2007 was 25.4 deaths per 1,000 children between the ages of 0 and 1 years, compared to 12.9 in 2006 and 18.1 in 2005.
Though Delhi's IMR is still better than the national average of 55, the 2007 figure comes as a jolt, especially since the last time that Delhi saw such a high IMR was in 2001, when the figure touched 24.5.
Delhi's medical fraternity admits that the figure is worrying, especially as the city claims to be progressing towards a better future, bolstered by a higher spend on the healthcare sector. In the 2008 budget, the Delhi government had allocated Rs 873.70 crore -- a substantial 9% of the total outlay, for the health sector.
"There are various reasons for the rising mortality rate, number one being the lack of education of the parents, especially the mother," said Dr Sudha Prasad, senior doctor at LNJP Hospital. Dr Prasad, who specialises in IVF, cited the patients coming to LNJP. "The socio-economic profile of the mothers make it extremely hard for them to concentrate on one child, since most have a large brood of children. Many times, the parents can't even diagnose the symptoms properly, failing to bring the child in time for treatment," added Dr Prasad.
Other healthcare professionals agree. A senior doctor in the paediatrics department of AIIMS cited the SRS number, which puts the IMR at a higher 36. "Compare this to Kerala, which is only 13. The number is shameful, especially if you consider that IMR is the symbol of a nation's development and not the number of roads or weapons we have," said the source.
According to health experts, the reason why the IMR in Delhi is so high is because of many factors, including the increasing influx of migratory population with poor access to proper healthcare. Add the fact that the city doesn't have adequate number of beds for the existing population, with the large hospitals facing the brunt of the healthcare demand, and it becomes obvious that something drastic needs to be done soon.
Health minister Kiran Walia, agrees. "We've been concentrating on healthcare for some time now, including introducing Anganwadi and healthcare workers. Special schemes like the Janani Suraksha Yojna and the Mamta schemes are also functional. But all efforts get neutralised in the face of the large influx of migrants into the city," adds Walia.
The Survey backs the claim, with figures that show a rise in number of migrants: in 2007, there were 47.42% migrants in the city, when the percentage of natural growth was 52.58%. In absolute terms, the natural increase in population during 2007 was 2.21 lakh, whereas migrants increased by 2.45 lakh. The figures are based on birth and death rates and the total increase in population.
Interestingly, the Survey also throws up an interesting anomaly -- whereas the death rate has gone down from 6.11 per 1,000 in 2006 to 6.07 in 2007, the number of average deaths recorded per day has gone up from 271 in 2006 to 277 in 2007. The number one cause of death in the city is heart disease, with transport accidents also accounting for quite a few.