What’s Making Us Happy: The Decline in India’s Maternal Mortality Rate


What’s Making Us Happy: The Decline in India’s Maternal Mortality Rate

Illustration: Juergen D

In today’s edition of Really Great News You Totally Didn’t Expect to Hear, the Health Ministry issued a special bulletin to announce that the Maternal Mortality Rate in India has dropped by 22 per cent. According to the sample registration system data released by the office of Registrar General of India, MMR declined from 167 in 2011-13 to 130 in 2014-16.

For the uninitiated, MMR is an indicator of maternal care, measures the quality of safe deliveries, and is calculated as the number of maternal deaths per 1,00,000 live births. The World Health Organization defines MMR as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes.”

Until now, India’s poor scores were unanimously blamed on the country’s gap in access to maternal healthcare between the urban and rural areas. But the 22 per cent reduction since 2013 means that nearly 1,000 fewer women die because of pregnancy-related complications in the country each month. It also means that 30 more pregnant women are being saved in India every day. Finally, something to cheer about!

To measure and track changes at the regional level, the government categorised states into three groups – Empowered Action Groups (EAGs), Southern states, and “Other” states. EAG-designated states are those where economic and social development indicators are, well, not great. And it was in these states that the most significant declines were recorded. These include the BIMARU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand), as well as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Assam. This is a great sign, considering these states lag behind in demographic transition and have the highest infant as well as maternal mortality rates in the country.

The MMR dropped in “other” states by 19 per cent whereas southern states recorded the best average at 77, with a drop of 17 per cent. Kerala registered the lowest MMR in the country at 46. The state’s robust public health care system is undoubtedly an inspiring model for the rest of the country.

The state of female healthcare in a country is reflected by the maternal and child mortality and morbidity numbers. Over the years, the Indian government has taken various initiatives to improve these health indicators. Initiatives like Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram, aimed at adolescent health; Partnerships and Opportunities to Strengthen and Harmonise Actions for Nutrition (Poshan); and Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram, focussed on providing free transport and care for pregnant women, have gone a long way.

And even though India has reduced its MMR by 69 per cent since 1990, it still has a lot of catching up to do, ranking 129 among 184 nations according to the World Bank. India, along with Nigeria, accounted for one-third of global maternal deaths in 2015.

Under the sustainable development goals (SDGs), India has set a target MMR of 70 by 2030, which has already been achieved in three states – Kerala (46), Maharashtra (61) and Tamil Nadu (66).

At this point, the need of the hour is resilient policy decisions backed by effective implementation over a continued period of time. It’s the only way we can achieve or even possibly better, the MMR target of 70 by 2030.