A Global Conversation: Newborn Health in India

By Gary Darmstadt, Amie Newman, Monika Gutestam and JoAnn Paradis; also published on Impatient Optimists

Any conversation about saving maternal and newborn lives around the world, must include a discussion of the issue in India. It’s why we’ve brought together a host of experts and advocates, from around the world, to address the ways in which our key partners, including government in India, are effecting real change on the ground, improving the health and lives of women and newborns in this part of the world.

Through a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Healthy Newborn Network co-produced series of blog posts we’ll publish over the next week, we’ll explore the innovative and exciting developments in this field, from a variety of voices, all in service to raising awareness of how important this work is to saving maternal and newborn lives in India.

Today, India accounts for the greatest burden of newborn deaths of any country in the world – over 900,000 babies die each year there, before they reach even one month old. This accounts for 28 percent of the total number of newborn deaths globally and a staggering 55 percent of all deaths in children before their fifth birthday in India.

In the face of these sobering statistics, however, India is at a crucial moment to translate new commitments into action for its most vulnerable mothers and newborns. 

In 2005, India enacted the world’s largest rural primary healthcare program of all time, the National Rural Health Mission. Under this program, entitlements for institutional maternal and newborn care through the Janani Suraksha Yogana (JSY) program, and recent policy developments surrounding home-based newborn care, have set the stage for action that could potentially save millions of lives each year. 

In the northern state of Bihar, for years chided as a basket case of development, the GDP has grown 11.35 per cent between 2004 and 2009, as compared to 3.5 per cent in the prior five years. The state’s economy has never grown so fast and so consistently, and its improvements in transportation infrastructure; law and order; and education, especially for girls, have attracted national and international attention and accolades.

Yet, India is a country of great contrasts, and great challenges in the midst of unparalleled opportunities.

For example, while Bihar’s per capita income has almost doubled since 2004-05 to $398 in 2010, it is still only around a third of the national average (US $ 1176). Although only10 percent of India’s annual births occur in Bihar, the region contributes 12 percent of neonatal deaths, and 12 percent of maternal deaths as well.

In this context, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aims to work in innovative ways with a wide range of partners, including governments, civil society organizations, academics, the business sector and private healthcare providers to reduce maternal, neonatal and child mortality. 

We aspire to discover and develop new game-changing tools, technologies, and solutions to avert the key causes of death which you’ll read about in the blog posts to come; and to catalyze the development and demonstration of models for delivery of solutions at scale.

 In Bihar, consistent with the goals of the Government of Bihar, and in close collaboration with them and a number of other key partners, we aspire over the course of the next several years to work together to  avert millions of stillbirths and maternal and child deaths.

In this series of blog postings, we will analyze the current maternal and child health situation in India, and explore the catalytic investments that promise improved maternal and child survival, specifically in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. 

Produced through a collaboration between Impatient Optimists (the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and the Healthy Newborn Network (HNN) supported by Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program, the series aims to explore maternal and newborn health in the context of its recent policy developments and to outline the vision and opportunities for innovation from several programs working towards improving maternal and child health in India.

Our goal is to share critical information and encourage dialogue amongst the many online readers and supporters of our organizations, on the status of maternal and newborn health in India.

We hope you will join with us by sharing your observations, aspirations, and your consternations regarding progress in women’s and children’s health in India.

Read the series:

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