New Delhi: Indian children belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are more likely to die before their fifth birthday than those born in non-SC/ST families, said a new study conducted by an Austria-based research organisation.
The study stated that while India has seen a consistent decline in child deaths in recent years, the under-five mortality rates among SCs and STs are still high in a few selected states.
For the study, which highlights caste-based inequalities in accessing India’s healthcare, researchers in Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) examined the link between castes and under-five mortality rate in India using data from Indian Demographic Health Survey conducted between 2015 and 2016.
Published in the journal PLOS ONE on 20 August, the study examined the disparities in under-five mortality rates in “high focus states” — which have persistently high child mortality rates, and relatively poor socio-economic and health conditions.
Biggest disparity found in Bihar
The researchers found that the under-five mortality in SC and ST families were 55.8 and 57.2 deaths, respectively, per 1,000 live births, while in non-SC/ST families, it is 46.6.
The biggest disparity was found in Bihar, where under-five mortality among SC and ST children were 72.9 and 52.5 deaths, respectively, against 54 deaths in non-SC/ST families.
“The main questions we wanted to address were whether the association between caste and under-five mortality had been fading away in recent years due to the government’s health programmes, particularly after the implementation of the country’s National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in 2005,” said Jayanta Bora, research assistant at IIASA World Population Program.
“We also wanted to determine which factors contribute to caste-based gaps in under-five mortality in India,” added Bora, who led the research.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study in India that provides district-level estimates of the under-five mortality rate while systematically investigating the factors explaining under-five deaths by caste groups using nationally representative data,” he said.
Gap linked to poor education, low attainment of wealth
Researchers found that the disparity was linked to poor education levels among women and low attainment of household wealth.
“We strongly believe that this study is a crucial contribution to knowledge in the Indian context with respect to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number three, which focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all people at all ages,” Bora said.
“Creating awareness around preventive healthcare, maternal care, nutrition, awareness about infectious diseases, the benefits of hygiene and sanitation, and subsidised maternal healthcare services among the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe populations should be increased through outreach programmes,” Bora suggested.
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