National Lag in Infant Health Care
At a recent obstetrical congress in Holland, an American physician was shocked to hear the United States described as an “underdeveloped country” in maternal and infant health care. Reasons for the statement are not hard to find. About 21 of every 1,000 infants born in this country die before age one—an infant mortality rate that is more than 50 per cent higher than Sweden's. The United States now ranks 13th in infant mortality, a slippage from sixth place only two decades ago. This slippage has occurred despite the fact that the rate has been improving since the turn of the century, with only brief interruption in the late 1950s.
This apparent paradox lies in the fact that many other industrial countries are making faster progress than America in infant health care. A significant number of American infant deaths that occur in the early months of life could be prevented if adequate prenatal and postnatal care were available to all—a problem due for attention at the White House Conference on Children which opens in Washington on Dec. 13. The conference will be attended by 4,000 delegates from across the country.
The reasons why so many infants are not receiving the necessary care include poverty, medical costs and inadequate and fragmented public health programs. Dr. Sheldon Korones, director of Newborn Services at City Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., contends that “low birth weight and high infant mortality are largely the results of poverty…it's all wrapped up with poor diets, with lack of prenatal care, with life in the ghetto. - Recent studies support Dr. Korones. In New York City, infant mortality was found to be four times higher in Harlem than in relatively affluent Queens. American Indian families have an infant mortality rate of 36 deaths per 1,000—the highest in the nation.