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    UN Says India Must Reduce Child Mortality Rates

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    The United Nations says India needs to reduce child mortality rates. A new report by the U.N. Children's Fund or UNICEF, says one-fifth of the worldwide deaths of children under the age of five occur in the populous South Asian country. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi.

    The UNICEF report says India accounted for more than two million of the 9.7 million children who died in the world before their fifth birthday last year.

    U.N. officials say that child mortality rates in India - as in the rest of the world - have declined over the last 15 years. But in India this has happened slowly, at an average rate of two-and-a-half percent a year.

    UNICEF representative in India, Gianni Murzi, told reporters in New Delhi Monday that India must do more to reduce child mortality.

    "We still have some way to go and the pace of achievement need to increase over the next year," said Murzi.  "The world without India will not make the development goals, therefore there is a need for accelerating in the country this pace."

    The U.N. has identified malnutrition as a major challenge in India, and says it is the underlying cause of death among fifty percent of the children who die.

    Victor Aguayo at UNICEF in New Delhi says it is now recognized that malnutrition levels in India are "unacceptably high."

    "Far too many children in India are being born with a very low birth weight, and the infant feeding practices in the first two years of life are sub optimal," he said. "Children are not always being breastfed in an adequate way, and children are not being provided with adequate foods."

    The U.N. says India also has the largest pool of children who have never been immunized - about 9.5 million. These children are more vulnerable to diseases such as measles and diphtheria. The U.N. says pneumonia and diarrhea are other big killers.

    The U.N. reports some success stories. The number of children attending primary school in India is on the rise - about 84 percent of girls and boys between six and 10 are now going to school. More children have access to improved sanitation.

    India - a country of over a billion people - is today one of the youngest countries in the world. Nearly one third of its population is under 15 years of age. Economists and developers have repeatedly stressed that India needs to provide far greater access to improved healthcare and education for this young population.

     

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