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This Republic day, let us not forget 5 lakh children die every year, writes Raveena Tandon

There is something fundamentally beautiful about being a mother. The kind of beauty that enthralls the heart and the soul. The kind of beauty that comes with inherent instincts of protecting and nurturing. As India celebrates one more year of being a sovereign republic, we must send a message around the country about how we, as mothers, can be more responsible about our children to enable them to build a healthier country.

Children are most vulnerable in the first five years of their lives. Our country has one of the highest under-five child mortality rates in the world. With an estimated 1.2 million deaths in 2015 — 20 per cent of the 5.9 million global deaths, this is a great cause of concern. As a mother, I know that breastfeeding, ensuring the child receives proper nutrition, and full immunisation are the best gifts I can give to my child. They are precious life-saving interventions which have saved lives of children all over the world. It is that crucial step we need to start considering seriously.

When I was associated with the National Health Mission (NHM), I learnt that India loses over five lakh children every year, mostly due to preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea. These diseases can be avoided by timely immunisation, proper nutrition, safe drinking water, and hygienic habits. However, there is a lack of awareness and availability of services, which creates a gap. Our government, however, has shown great resolve in strengthening the health system to deliver immunisation to the children even in the most remote areas, and has also included new vaccines for pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles and rubella in the National Immunisation Programme. I would, in my own capacity, like to build awareness among the mothers of this country to help them avail the services and immunise their children. It is one of the most effective ways to protect our future generation.

During my shoots, I have seen my technical staff and colleagues losing vital work days due to their children being unwell. Poor families are pushed down the poverty line due to the high cost of hospitalisation and treatment of vaccine-preventable childhood diseases. Preventing disease is less expensive than treating severe illness, and timely immunisation is the most cost-effective prevention option out there. Less disease means less money spent on medical expenses. Healthier children also do better developmentally, especially in school, and give parents more time to be productive at home and at work. When children are sick, parents also have to take time off to care for them, which negatively impacts India’s economy.

There is a huge gap in our society. At one end of the spectrum there are families who are privileged, educated and can afford the best healthcare. On the other end, there are people who struggle to make ends meet, and where treatment of even basic illness is not affordable. I have seen both these sides of India. And I feel we must try and work together to reduce this gap where every citizen of our country is assured access to quality healthcare, especially our children. India has the largest young population in the world. It is vital to invest in the health of the future generation by protecting children from diseases that sicken them, weaken their immune systems, increase their risk of future infections, and hamper their development. Our children are the future of our nation and their health is in our hands.

As the country celebrate its 68th Republic Day, we need to remind ourselves about what is important in our lives. Our children are our orbit and giving, loving and caring for them enriches us. We need to act together to ensure our children become the pillars for this nation. And those pillars can only be built on a foundation of health, education and good values. If we do not act together, we will not succeed. Now is our moment to act.

The writer is a Bollywood actress, producer and active in social work.