August 5, 2008 / 10:24 AM / 11 years ago

Much of Asia fails in healthcare, children suffer-UN

By Bappa Majumdar

NEW DELHI, Aug 5 (Reuters) - India is failing to provide basic healthcare to its poorest children despite robust economic growth, underlining a widening gap between rich and poor across the Asia-Pacific region, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said cutting child mortality depended on India and China, which together accounted for almost a third of all child deaths worldwide in 2006.

India is among 13 countries in the Asia-Pacific which are struggling to reduce child mortality rates by two thirds, one of the so-called health-related Millennium Goals the United Nations set to achieve by 2015, UNICEF said in a new report.

"India needs more political will and needs to strengthen its healthcare delivery to the poorest of the poor who are not being reached," Daniel Toole, UNICEF's regional director of South Asia, said in New Delhi.

In 2006, 2.1 million children under five years old died in India -- the biggest number after China. India is the second most populous nation in the world and UNICEF said global efforts to improve child survival would fail unless it does better.

"India is a key to the process of improvement and if India fails, the world fails," Toole said after releasing "The State of Asia Pacific's Children 2008" report.

India's infant mortality rate stood at 57 per 1,000 live births last year. The country's health officials have announced they would bring that rate down to around 30 per 1,000 live births within the next four years. South Asia was also falling behind rest of the world with only 1.1 percent of gross domestic product allocated to health care, UNICEF said.

Experts say many of the two-thirds of Indians living in rural areas do not have access to basic medical facilities, despite the country achieving 9 percent economic growth.

Around 65 percent of Indian women still give birth at home. UNICEF says there is an urgent need for drugs, doctors, nutrition and education for poor women and children.

"There is a tremendous level of growth, but the actual disparity between the rich and the poor is increasing," Toole said.

One out of every three women in India is also underweight, putting them at risk of delivering low birth-weight babies. These babies are 20 times more likely to die in infancy, according to UNICEF.

Healthcare facilities in India and the Asia-Pacific region was also hampered by corruption, Toole said. (Editing by Alistair Scrutton) (For the latest Reuters news on India see: http://in.reuters.com , for blogs see blogs.reuters.com/in/.)



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