Heeding the call of the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit in September, the Indian government has introduced a monetary incentives scheme for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers in an unprecedented attempt to curb its high rate of maternal deaths and child mortality.
Women enrolled in the program would be assigned a private bank account, and over a period of six months, 12,000 rupees — or $270 US dollars — would be deposited under the agreement that the woman regularly attends scheduled health check-ups and receives the prescribed vaccinations. The scope of the initiative is set to reach more than one million women at a projected price tag of $223 million.
Despite booming economic growth, much of India’s development has failed to adequately address women. According to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report 2010,” India ranks 132 out of 134 countries in the health and survival of their female-versus-male population. While international maternal mortality rates trend downward, India’s progress has been lagging, rendering it unlikely to reach its MDG targets by 2015.
Recent UN figures cite India as having the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Approximately 1,000 women die each day from pregnancy complications, 80 percent of which are considered to be avoidable through treatment. Expecting mothers are 36 times more likely to die during child birth in India than their equivalent in a developed country.
As we highlighted in a previous post, the cycle of poverty may begin as soon a child is conceived. New studies reveal that the 1,000 day window from conception to a child’s second birthday can have drastic implications on physical and mental development.
The new welfare program would enable pregnant women to raise the standards of their nutrition, increasing the birth weight of their newborns. To help communities better address poverty, which is often cyclical, every nation, particularly those like India with high maternal mortality rates, must focus on offering prenatal and postnatal health services as a preventative measure. In the long term, this investment will help to curtail the high burden of maternal and child mortality and foster growth through a more productive, healthy labor force that is less dependent on its government.