London : Millions of people in India who live on less than 50 pence (Rs.40) a day will benefit from 250 million pounds of new aid from Britain aimed at reducing the number of children who die before their fifth birthday.
The funds will also be used to ensure that when mothers give birth, a doctor or nurse is available to provide medical back up – giving them and their babies a much better chance of survival.
Groups at a high risk of AIDS such as commercial sex workers and injectible drug users will benefit from funds for expanding education programmes that teach them how to protect themselves, an official release here said.
Gareth Thomas, minister for international development, said: "India has gained a reputation as a major economic superpower. But we should not forget that one in three Indians survive on less than 50 pence a day.
"Only one in four children from India's poorest families are immunised against killer diseases compared to three in four from the richest. Funds will also help to improve healthcare for other socially excluded groups such as Dalits (formerly known as 'untouchables'), indigenous people, and minorities, including Muslims."
Most of the funding will go directly to the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Orissa is one of the poorest states in India with 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line.
Children from Scheduled Castes and Tribes, which together make up more than one in three of the state's population, are 25 percent more likely to die before their fifth birthday than those from other groups in the state, the release said.
In Madhya Pradesh, where 37 percent of the population live below the poverty line, deprivation is highest among Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Nearly 14 percent of children die before their fifth birthday, compared to a national average of 10 percent. Sixty percent (three in five) of children under three years old are underweight compared to 46 percent for India overall.
In Andhra Pradesh, two percent of women going to antenatal clinics are living with HIV and AIDS – more than anywhere else in India. Childhood immunisation has fallen since 1998, from 59 percent to 46 percent in 2005-06. More than 25 percent of women are left to give birth without the support of a qualified medical professional.
The announcement comes as the Department for International Development (DFID) launches a public debate on how British aid for India can be better spent. Britain's aid budget for India is set to rise to 300 million pounds for 2008 and is designed to improve healthcare, get more children into primary school and reduce poverty in India.
Those wishing to take part in the public debate on how British aid is spent in India can e-mail their comments to [email protected] by Sep 10.
The latest aid announcement comprised 60 million pounds for Madhya Pradesh from 2007-2012; 50 million pounds for Orissa from 2007-2012; 40 million pounds for Andhra Pradesh from 2007-2010 and 102 million pounds for the Indian government's nationwide programme to tackle HIV and AIDS from 2007-2012.
In 2007, British aid for India is 266 million pounds, rising to 300 million pounds in 2008.