The Decline in Infant Mortality in India

By Policy Analyst

The Sample Registration System’s September Bulletin released figures on the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in India for 2016.

The Trend

We find that the IMR in 2016 was 8.1% less than in 2015. The IMR dropped from 37 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015 to 34 in 2016. The estimated number of deaths decreased from 9.3 lakh to 8.4 lakh.

A comparison with past figures reveals that there has been a substantial increase in the rate of decline. The percentage decline in 2016 is much higher than in recent years. Just three years ago, in 2014, the rate of decline had come down to merely 2.5%.

This decline in the IMR is not skewed by gender. The IMR among girls declined from 39 to 36, while among boys it came down by 2 points (from 35 per 1,000 live births to 33) in 2016. This may be partially attributed to the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” programme under which efforts are to be made by the Centre and states for protecting the girl child.

For the trend, please see Figure 1 below:

Figure 1

The Reasons

What explains this improved performance in infant mortality reduction?

It has been found that most infants die due to preventable reasons. Perinatal conditions, respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases are the primary causes behind infant mortality in India.

In the last few years, there have been some targeted interventions which may be causing this decline. The gradual rise in institutional deliveries across the country is an important factor behind this improvement. In 2016, a programme was also announced for free monthly medical check-ups for all pregnant women in the country.

The increased coverage of toilets in rural India may be another reason for the decline in the IMR as the incidence of diarrhoea is associated with open defecation. For example, a recent report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on a study undertaken for the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, has found that the incidence of diarrhoea was much lower in Open Defecation Free (ODF) areas. Thus, the lower IMR could be seen as an indicator of the health impact of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

The increase in immunisation through Mission Indradhanush could be another factor behind this decline in the IMR, since it could have led to a lower incidence of infections among infants. Launched in 2014, Mission Indradhanush aims at providing full immunisation to more than 90% children in India. The target for the programme was advanced to December 2018 earlier this year.

As most of the above mentioned programmes are ongoing, it may not be unreasonable to expect further improvement in the IMR decline in the coming years.