Tuesday, 3 June, 2008

For heaven's sake, can't you dig?

In this week's (June 9) India Today, Ambreesh Mishra (Birth of hope) writes, “According to official figures in 2004, almost three-fourths (74 per cent) of the total deliveries in the state took place outside medical institutions, in dangerous circumstances under the guidance of ill-trained midwives.

As a result, maternal mortality rate was 498 per lakh and infant mortality rate was 76 per thousand.

The figures were the highest for any state in the country and according to an official survey, below average ratings on nearly all human development indices confirmed the status of Madhya Pradesh as a sick state.

However, the launch of two major initiatives—Janani Suraksha and Janani Express—has helped bring about a change.

While maternal mortality rate is down to 354, infant mortality rate has declined to 66, as per 2008 figures.” (Emphasis mine.)

This should be good news, yet why do I keep seeing a NGO aunty making a pious speech in a 5-star hotel's conference hall, the corrupt babu and evil doctor licking their fat lips in the back rows, while mothers and children continue dying?

Because I cannot trust the numbers. As fractions, they are very small. In percentage terms, the maternal mortality rates are 0.498% and 0.354%, and the infant mortality rates are 7.6% and 6.6%, for last year and this year, respectively. Can we, just by looking at the figures, say that things have started changing for the better?

And the journalist gives no clue about the nature of the research that produced them. Surely, a sample of a lakh (100,000) was not surveyed, nor a sample of exactly a thousand. What are the ranges between which reality lies?

What is also interesting, and probably worrying, is that the infant mortality rate was 15 times the maternal mortality rate last year, and is 19 times this year. Why is this so? The article doesn't tell us.

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