A Bangladesh government official and a physician said the country was cutting its infant mortality rate, but better programs and hospital services were needed to see even lower numbers.
The two spoke in response to a report of 51 countries released Wednesday by UNICEF that supports its prediction seven years ago that investing properly in poor children can save lives.
“Children growing up in poverty are nearly twice as likely to die before reaching their fifth birthday as children growing up in better circumstances,” the report said.
The study, “Narrowing the Gaps, The Power of Investing in the Poorest Children,” found that for every U.S. $1 million spent, the number of deaths averted was 168, compared to 92 in non-poor groups.
Over a 25-year period beginning in 1990, Bangladesh saw its infant mortality rate fall from 144 per 1,000 to 38 per 1,000, according to UNICEF figures released in 2015. This represents a 74 percent drop in infant mortality among Bangladeshi children aged five years and under.
Dr. Md. Jahangir Alam Sarker, director of primary health care at the Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said he expected to see more improvements.
“Comparatively Bangladesh is more advanced than other countries regarding reducing child mortality rate. We are on the right track,” Sarker told BenarNews. “But we could not spread-out nationwide programs yet. For example, we could not start special-care units for infants in all hospitals.”
“We have undertaken many programs to reduce child mortality, but we could not reach many at the grassroots level,” he said. “Those programs are spreading out. We will get results soon.”
The UNICEF report said most deaths could have been prevented with practical low-cost interventions including: oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhea; early immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases; primary and community-based health services such as skilled birth attendants to reduce complications during labor and delivery; and care-seeking by parents of young children to treat illness.
It praised the Bangladesh government for setting up community clinics at the village level to provide free routine health services while improving water, sanitation and hygiene.
Pediatrician Kaniz Hasina Sheuli, who also is a professor at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said more can be done to save sick children, pointing out that not all Bangladesh hospitals are equipped properly to help them and more skilled nurses are needed.
“We could manage to control child diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea, but still death rate of the children with birth defects is 4 percent,” she said.
“Usually we operate surgery immediately after the birth of those infants with defects. Intensive care units (ICU) are required for these of surgeries, but public hospitals lack this support,” Sheuli said. “Available ICUs are not sufficient. As a result, everybody doesn’t get this benefit.”