By Bappa Majumdar
NEW DELHI, Jan 15 (Reuters) - India’s fight to lower maternal and child mortality rates is failing due to growing social inequalities and shortages in primary healthcare facilities despite an economic boom, the United Nations said on Thursday.
India’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) stands at 450 per 100,000 live births -- against 540 in the 1998-99 period -- and way behind the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which call for a reduction to 109 by 2015, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.
"We know what needs to be done to save the lives of the 78,000 women who die from pregnancy and childbirth each year in India," said Karin Hulshof, UNICEF India representative.
"Primary health care that embraces every stage of maternal, newborn and child health must be made available to all of India’s most vulnerable women and children so they can survive and thrive," Hulshof added.
India’s infant mortality rate stands at 57 per 1,000 live births, more than impoverished Eritrea and Bangladesh, Indian officials say.
The MDGs are eight social and economic development benchmarks set for nations to accomplish by 2015.
They include reducing poverty levels, increasing universal education and fighting the spread of AIDS.
India is not on track to meet half its MDGs by 2015, experts said last September in New Delhi, while presenting a global MDGs report.
According to UNICEF, India has to achieve about a two-thirds reduction in MMR to meet the target by 2015, which they said was difficult given growing social and income inequalities.
"Widening disparities are prevalent in health outcomes between income groups and between social and caste groups," the UNICEF said in its "State of World Children-2009" report.
More than two-thirds of Indians live in rural areas, many without access to basic medical facilities, despite three years of nearly 9 percent economic growth.
About 65 percent of Indian women still deliver at home and those who are from the lower caste suffer the most as they are often denied access to basic healthcare.
Indian states show disparity in maternal mortality rates.
While the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has a maternal mortality rate of 517, almost comparable to Sudan at 550, the MMR in the southern state of Kerala is only 110.
In neighbouring Nepal, the Maoist-led government announced it has started providing free maternal services to pregnant women in state-run centres to reduce maternal and child mortality rates.
About 80 percent of women deliver their babies at home where 67 percent of all maternal deaths occur, Nepalese officials said. (Additional reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Jerry Norton) (Reuters Messaging:firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; +91-11-41781000))