Take effective, sustainable measures to curb infant mortality

The report that Prothom Alo published on BBS 'Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics 2022' on Tuesday depicted a grave picture. The report published by Prothom Alo on Tuesday presented a distressing situation as depicted in the 'Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics 2022' report by BBS. According to the report, out of every 1,000 children born in 2022, 25 of them do not survive beyond their first year.

This number was slightly lower in 2021, with 22 children dying before reaching one year of age. Moreover, the mortality rate for children under the age of five increased from 28 per 1,000 live births in 2021 to 31 in 2022. This means that if 1,000 children are born, 31 of them will not survive beyond five years of age.

The rise in infant mortality can be attributed to several factors, including the prevalence of premature births and low birth weight babies, difficulties in breathing during birth, infections, birth defects, maternal and child malnutrition, and complications during delivery.

Abid Hossain Mollah, the former chairman of the paediatrics department at Dhaka Medical College, has stated that nearly half of all deaths among children under the age of five in the country occur within the first 28 days after birth, which is known as the neonatal period.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the infant mortality rate in Bangladesh was 29 in 2018. The following year, in 2019, it slightly decreased to 28. This rate remained unchanged for the subsequent two years. However, in 2022, there was an increase in the infant mortality rate, surpassing the figures of the previous four years. Two months ago, the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey 2022 results were released by the National Institute of Population Research and Training (NIPORT) and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr'b). The survey also indicated that the infant mortality rate in the country had risen to 31.

There is a direct correlation between not breast feeding infants and higher infant mortality rates. In cases where newborns and children are high-risk or require medical attention, proper hospital treatment is crucial. However, not all hospitals are equipped with the necessary facilities and trained midwives.

Additionally, around half of babies in Bangladesh are born at home without the assistance of a trained midwife. As a result, various complications arise, increasing the likelihood of infant deaths.

Based on the statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO), three South Asian countries have less infant mortality rate than that in Bangladesh. Among these countries, Sri Lanka has the lowest infant mortality rate, standing at 11 deaths per 1,000 live births.

In Maldives, the rate is slightly higher at 20 deaths per 1,000 live births, followed by Bhutan with a rate of 30 deaths per 1,000 live births. Pakistan, on the other hand, has the highest infant mortality rate among SAARC countries, with 74 deaths occurring before the age of five per 1,000 children born in the country.

Policymakers in Bangladesh demonstrate a sense of complacency regarding the decline in the infant mortality rate. However, the data consistently indicate a different reality. The efforts to control and reduce the infant mortality rate seem to be marked by a pattern of slow progress and setbacks. Sustaining the progress made requires comprehensive care, starting from the mother's conception and extending to at least 28 days after the baby is born. Any negligence or lack of supervision during any stage of this process is unacceptable and can hinder the efforts to combat infant mortality.

Mahmudur Rahman, the Director of the Maternal and Child Health Programme at the Family Planning Directorate, tried to evade responsibility by saying that there is no record indicating an increase in child mortality.

However, it is evident that the BBS data is available to them. If policymakers fail to acknowledge the problem, it becomes challenging to find effective solutions. Bangladesh not only lags behind Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Bhutan in South Asia but also falls behind countries like Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria.

It is crucial for policymakers to not succumb to complacency but instead take prompt, effective, and sustainable action to address the issue of child mortality.