November 7, 2007Public Policy

Selective Tehelka and public health in Gujarat

If you don’t pick and choose the facts, a different reality emerges

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

In the previous post we saw how Shivam Vij missed telling his readers something about India’s poverty lines that he should have. In this one we will see another dubious technique: picking and choosing facts to arrive at unfounded conclusions.

According to the third round of National Family Health Survey, anaemia and malnutrition in Gujarat have in fact increased from the second round by a sharp 60 percent. For instance, in the 6-35 month age group for children, the percentage of anaemia has gone up to 80.1 percent in 2005-06 from 74.5 percent in 1998-99. Incidentally, Gujarat is taking the lead in privatising public health infrastructure. [Shivam Vij/Tehelka]

Now public health professionals will tell you that if you want to capture the picture of public health standards in a particular area in a single indicator, you will look at infant mortality rates [See National Family Health Survey Round Three]. So when you see something else being quoted, you immediately decide to look at infant mortality. And you discover that in the case of Gujarat, the infant mortality rate has dropped from 63 per 1000 live births 1998-99 to 50 per 1000 live births in 2005-06. The national figures are 68 and 57 respectively. Gujarat, it turns out, did better than the national average. Gujarat also showed improvements in family planning and maternity care, with institutional births increasing from 46.35 to 54.6%. The fact that more expectant mothers seek medical care is a better indicator of the (‘incidentally privatised’) public health infrastructure than anaemia and malnutrition.

But have anaemia and malnutrition not risen in Gujarat. They have. But not only in Gujarat. While India’s national public health indicators have been improving, it turns out that the anaemia rate in infants and young children has increased: from 74.2% in 1998-99 to 79.2% in 2005-06. Gujarat is part of a national trend. It will be interesting to examine why this is so, but we can’t single out Gujarat alone on account of childhood anaemia. Malnutrition though, as measured by children under 3 years who are underweight, has risen in Gujarat (from 45.1% to 47.4%) while the national average has improved (from 47% to 45.9%). (Malnutrition, by the way, is not merely a result of poverty. It is also the result of lack of information. Gujarat’s policymakers may not be focusing on this angle, as otherwise the increase in awareness of HIV/AIDS from 30% to 49% demonstrates that the state has the capacity to improve information)

The reality, it turns out, is more complex than Shivam would have his readers believe. But then it wouldn’t cause a sensation, would it?

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