Sunday, August 9, 2009


I have just read an article in Time magazine about infant mortality in the U.S. Despite our preeminence as a technologically advanced world power, our infant mortality rate in 2005 was ranked #30 among industrialized nations, below Singapore, Japan, Germany, France, and Cuba, among others. The U.S. rate has dropped since 1960 when we were #12. Is it possible that this decline is in any way related to the escalation in the cost of health care? Incidentally, many of the countries with better infant mortality rates also have universal health care.

What was amazing about this article is that until recently the focus of the research into the causes of infant mortality had been on the babies rather than on the women giving birth. Considering that human babies grow inside the bodies of their mothers, it is astonishing that no one thought that the health of the mother would affect the health of their babies, and not just in the nine months prior to birth.

When the researchers tried a small experiment providing free health care to prospective mothers for two years prior to their pregnancies, they got impressive and positive results. Another perspective served up different and helpful results.

This same article reports that the infant mortality rate for blacks in the U.S. is more than twice the rate for whites and Hispanics, including the fact that "well-educated blacks have higher preterm-birth rates than poorly educated whites--some researchers think there could be greater stress among blacks at all social strata...."

No kidding!

Fortunately, as the researchers look at the problem from different perspectives, they are learning that, like most human issues, the causes are many and complex and not easily separated into neat social categories or sound bites. However, one thing is clear, you cannot expect to have healthy babies without healthy mothers, and that requires ongoing health care, not just during the period of pregnancy.

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