India has made substantial progress in improving child survival over the past few decades, but a comprehensive understanding of child mortality trends at disaggregated geographical levels is not available. We present a detailed analysis of subnational trends of child mortality to inform efforts aimed at meeting the India National Health Policy (NHP) and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets for child mortality.
We assessed the under-5 mortality rate (U5MR) and neonatal mortality rate (NMR) from 2000 to 2017 in 5 × 5 km grids across India, and for the districts and states of India, using all accessible data from various sources including surveys with subnational geographical information. The 31 states and groups of union territories were categorised into three groups using their Socio-demographic Index (SDI) level, calculated as part of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study on the basis of per-capita income, mean education, and total fertility rate in women younger than 25 years. Inequality between districts within the states was assessed using the coefficient of variation. We projected U5MR and NMR for the states and districts up to 2025 and 2030 on the basis of the trends from 2000 to 2017 and compared these projections with the NHP 2025 and SDG 2030 targets for U5MR (23 deaths and 25 deaths per 1000 livebirths, respectively) and NMR (16 deaths and 12 deaths per 1000 livebirths, respectively). We assessed the causes of child death and the contribution of risk factors to child deaths at the state level.
U5MR in India decreased from 83·1 (95% uncertainty interval [UI] 76·7–90·1) in 2000 to 42·4 (36·5–50·0) per 1000 livebirths in 2017, and NMR from 38·0 (34·2–41·6) to 23·5 (20·1–27·8) per 1000 livebirths. U5MR varied 5·7 times between the states of India and 10·5 times between the 723 districts of India in 2017, whereas NMR varied 4·5 times and 8·0 times, respectively. In the low SDI states, 275 (88%) districts had a U5MR of 40 or more per 1000 livebirths and 291 (93%) districts had an NMR of 20 or more per 1000 livebirths in 2017. The annual rate of change from 2010 to 2017 varied among the districts from a 9·02% (95% UI 6·30–11·63) reduction to no significant change for U5MR and from an 8·05% (95% UI 5·34–10·74) reduction to no significant change for NMR. Inequality between districts within the states increased from 2000 to 2017 in 23 of the 31 states for U5MR and in 24 states for NMR, with the largest increases in Odisha and Assam among the low SDI states. If the trends observed up to 2017 were to continue, India would meet the SDG 2030 U5MR target but not the SDG 2030 NMR target or either of the NHP 2025 targets. To reach the SDG 2030 targets individually, 246 (34%) districts for U5MR and 430 (59%) districts for NMR would need a higher rate of improvement than they had up to 2017. For all major causes of under-5 death in India, the death rate decreased between 2000 and 2017, with the highest decline for infectious diseases, intermediate decline for neonatal disorders, and the smallest decline for congenital birth defects, although the magnitude of decline varied widely between the states. Child and maternal malnutrition was the predominant risk factor, to which 68·2% (65·8–70·7) of under-5 deaths and 83·0% (80·6–85·0) of neonatal deaths in India could be attributed in 2017; 10·8% (9·1–12·4) of under-5 deaths could be attributed to unsafe water and sanitation and 8·8% (7·0–10·3) to air pollution.