It's 2018 and babies still die every day. This might seem impossible given the amazing developments in modern science, but it's an unfortunate fact. And it's not just happening in developing countries; a recent UNICEF report found that the newborn mortality rate in the United States is still alarmingly high, with survival rates "only slightly better" than in lower-income countries like Sri Lanka and Ukraine, according to The Guardian.
UNICEF released a report on Tuesday measuring infant mortality rates across the globe, and the results were dismal for the United States. Compared to other countries with similar socio-economic wealth, the United States fell far behind. The report, called Every Child Alive, found that four babies out of every 1,000 live births in the United States died within the first month of being born, while other developed countries had an average infant mortality rate of three babies out of every 1,000 births.
Countries like Japan, Iceland, and Singapore had the best success when it came to babies living beyond 1 month old. As previously mentioned, the newborn mortality rate in the United States was only slightly better than that of Sri Lanka and the Ukraine, which is especially surprising considering infant mortality is so closely related to the income levels of countries. The United States is a wealthy country, but babies continue to die from preventable causes at a shocking rate.
Across the globe, according to UNICEF's report, 1 million infants die before the end of their first day; even more sobering, five babies around the world die every minute. A total of 2.6 million babies per year, in fact, and 80 percent of those deaths are preventable. UNICEF's executive director Henrietta H. Fore told The Guardian that trying to combat the persistent plague of preventative newborn deaths is an uphill battle:
While we have more than halved the number of deaths among children under the age of five in the last quarter century, we have not made similar progress in ending deaths among children less than one month old. Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies.
Fore also noted that affordable health care could be the key to saving these babies, 80 percent of whom die from being born prematurely, complications during birth, or infections like sepsis or pneumonia. If new mothers had access to health care, clean water, breastfeeding support (especially in those first precious hours after a baby is born), and proper nutrition, these rates may not be as dismal. As Fore told The Guardian:
We know we can save the vast majority of these babies with affordable, quality healthcare solutions for every mother and every newborn. Just a few small steps from all of us can help ensure the first small steps of each of these young lives.
The two main reasons cited for the poor infant mortality rate in the United States were teen pregnancy and a lack of affordable health care; the other developed countries that fared better in the study all benefited from some form of government-run health care (like Finland, France, Estonia, and Germany) rather than relying on health insurance companies. Other factors like a high rate of unintended pregnancies and obesity, which can cause issues like gestational diabetes, are also considered contributing factors.
While the United States' infant mortality rate is still much worse than it should be in comparison to other developed countries, some studies have found reason for hope. Babies are dying from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) 29 percent less often in the past 10 years, according to a 2017 study published, as NBC News reported, and the overall rate mortality rate has gone down by 15 percent. Still, as Anne Driscoll of the National Center for Health Statistics told NBC News, "Infant mortality is considered a basic measure of public health for countries around the world."
The United States might be moving towards fewer infant deaths, but more needs to be done. And faster. Because no family should ever lose their baby for preventable reasons in such a developed country with the resources to to prevent such tragedies.
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