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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 August 2006, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Millions to cut deaths in India
Indian baby
Many Indian babies do not survive into adulthood
The UK has committed 252m to a scheme designed to save the lives of a million Indian children and mothers each year.

The funds, to be spent over five years, will help the Indian government boost reproductive health care for the poor and disadvantaged.

The aim of the project is to reduce India's maternal mortality rate from 407 per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 100 per 100,000 in 2015.

It is also hoped to cut deaths among the under-fives by more than half.

The birth of a child ought to be a joyful experience, but for more than 100,000 women in India giving birth means death for them and possibly their baby as well
Hilary Benn
International Development Secretary

In 1998, 70 children died under the age of five per 1,000 live births. The aim is to cut this to 30 per 1,000 live births by 2015.

At present more than 2m Indian children die each year before they reach their fifth birthday.

The new funds were announced by Hilary Benn, International Development Secretary.

He said: "The birth of a child ought to be a joyful experience, but for more than 100,000 women in India giving birth means death for them and possibly their baby as well.

"The tragedy is that these deaths could so easily be prevented if mothers going into labour had the support of a skilled midwife, and children were properly immunised against killers such as measles and tetanus.

"The UK is keen to support the government of India's single biggest response to prevent needless deaths that destroy families across the country."

Initial problems

The first phase of the programme, which was not funded by the UK, was blighted by concerns about procurement irregularities.

An action plan has been drawn up to try to ensure the second phase of the project will avoid the same pitfalls.

It will help strengthen competitive tendering procedures and increase transparency for the purchasing of drugs and equipment.

New standards will also be in place to improve the quality of products.

Until these measures take effect, all procurement contracts over $200,000 will be handled by international agents.

The total cost of the programme is around $10bn. The UK's contribution is the largest by a foreign government.

The programme will provide specialist care throughout pregnancy, childbirth and childhood.

Work will be focused in some of India's poorest states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh.

The UK money will be used to upgrade maternity facilities, increase the number of skilled midwives at births, and purchase essential drugs.

It will also aid the development of strategies to improve adolescent health.


SEE ALSO
India launches rural health plan
12 Apr 05 |  South Asia
India 'loses 10m female births'
09 Jan 06 |  South Asia

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