State of child mortality, life expectancy: Coordinated steps in healthcare required

The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has revealed a disappointing picture of rising child mortality rate and declining average life expectancy over the past five years. In both cases the decline suggests the sorry state of healthcare as a whole.

According to BBS data, the average life expectancy of people in the country as of 2023 is 72.3 years which was 72.4 years in the previous year. On the other hand, in 2022, the mortality rate of children under one year of age in the country was 25 per 1,000, which increased to 27 in 2023. The number was 21 five years ago. The average life expectancy of men in the country is 70.8 years while that of women is 73.8 years.

The bureau of statistics every year publishes ‘vital statistics’, which reveals the picture of overall issues including birth, death, life expectancy, and marriage of the people of the country. According to the report, the estimated population of the country on 1 July, 2023 stood at 172,920,000.

None can deny that Bangladesh has made significant progress in socio-economic and human resource development in the 53 years since its independence. The policymakers continue to highlight the fact that healthcare has reached remote areas under the incumbent government. At the same time, this is also true that we were not successful in many cases. But it is not normal to go backwards from what has been achieved. It is important to find out whether there is any negligence on the part of responsible organisations and individuals, we think.

BBS’ Sample Vital Registration System (SVRS) in Digital Platform project director Alamgir Hossain cited increasing incidence of child mortality and non-communicable diseases as reasons for the decline in life expectancy. The question is whether necessary steps have been taken to prevent these diseases or not. If taken, why did it not bear fruit?

The way we cheered for an increase in life expectancy rate, we did not try to hold on to it with that enthusiasm. If this trend continues, the average life expectancy would fall further.

This also applies to rising cases of infant mortality. Achievements cannot be sustained as there is no effort to eliminate deficiencies in primary healthcare, antenatal care, delivery care and postnatal care. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eight times antenatal care. But 60 per cent of pregnant women in Bangladesh do not receive prenatal care even four times. This data is not an example of successful government healthcare.

While the decline in maternal mortality is a source of relief, the rise in child marriage is a cause for concern. The marriage rate among girls under 15 is 8.2 per cent which was 6.5 per cent in 2022.

Besides, some 41.6 per cent of women get married before the age of 18 which was 40.9 per cent in 2022. Earlier, it was said that child marriage has increased during the coronavirus pandemic. But the BBS statistics suggest this social menace has intensified after the pandemic. No matter how strict the law is to prevent child marriage, there is serious laxity in its implementation.

Ensuring healthcare for people of all ages - from children to the elderly - could reduce infant mortality and increase life expectancy.