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Amazing return on investment in maternal and child health

Posted:  Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Early small investments in health improve long-term outcomes! Since maternal and child health issues have regularly topped the government agenda, multifarious government sponsored schemes and programmes have been introduced in India. A national survey has suggested that early interventions and low-cost investments in child and women health care programmes can substantially improve maternal and child health status.

The Economic Survey 2015-16, India was undertaken as a nationwide survey focussing on maternal and child health or long-term growth. This survey provides information on neonatal mortality, maternal nutrition, and the impact of different health care programmes. Study findings that emphasised the need for nourishment during pregnancy are:

Forty-two per cent of Indian women are underweight at the beginning of pregnancy.

The weight gain during pregnancy is about 7 kg, which is significantly lower than the WHO-recommended 12.5 to 18 kg.

About 70% of neonatal deaths happen during the first month because of low birth weight

The survey also assessed the impact of government initiatives such as the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and 'Janani Suraksha Yojana' for promoting breastfeeding. The study indicated that the proportion of breastfeeding mothers had increased to 62%. Moreover, the study recommended the pairing of health care education with proper financial assistance during pregnancy under the National Food Security Act 2013.

The survey rightly points out that maternal health is an influential determinant of an individual's cognitive development and life chances. The study proposes early life interventions and low-cost investments in maternal nutrition and sanitation programmes. These relatively low-cost maternal and early-life health and nutrition programmes may reduce neonatal mortality and improve the nutritional status of women during pregnancy.

Such government-sponsored investments can lead to substantial changes in societal norms within a relatively short time period. Consequently, investing in maternal and child health should become a top policy priority of the government.

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