United States and Illinois Fall Behind Other Countries in Infant Death Rates: What Does This Say About Quality of Health Care?

Even though a recent study showed infant death rate declining by 2% in the United States and Illinois declined recently, the percentage of decline is much less than in prior years. In fact, this is the smallest decrease since we first began recording the infant death rate in 1907. This trend is compounded by the fact that Illinois and the U.S. have more infant deaths than most other industrialized countries, a trend that has worsened with each passing year.

Each year more than 28,000 infants under one year-old die in the United States. Two-thirds of these infant deaths are preterm babies. In 2006, 6.71 infants died in the United States for every 1,000 live births. In 2006, Illinois was well above the national average with 7.2 infants deaths for every 1,000 births. Illinois’s death rate seems even more startling when compared with that of other countries. In 2004, twenty-two countries had infant mortality rates below 5.0 infant deaths for 1,000 live births, and many Scandinavian and Asian countries posting rates below 3.5.

The infant death rate is important because it is used as an international indicator of a nation’s health and quality of medical care. So even though individuals in the United States spend a much larger portion of its income on health care than those in other industrialized nations, we continue to fall short of the international standard. In 1960 the United States had the 12th lowest rates of infant mortality in the world. But by 2004 we had dropped to 29th lowest, the same rank as Slovakia and Poland.

If we are spending so much more than these other countries, why are we falling further and further behind the world-wide standard? Some look towards recent trends in preterm births, Cesarean deliveries, and other types of birth injury as the source of this problem. Others feel the problem is due to cultural issues, like drug use and obesity. And yet another group feels that the decentralization of our health care system is to blame.

To decrease the amount of infant deaths, doctors recommend that labor should not be induced prior to 39 weeks gestation unless there is an urgent obstetrical or medical need. The reason for this is that there are quite substantial risks to a child that undergoes early induction of labor. If this is the cause of the United State’s substantial lag behind the rest of the world in infant death rates then the quality of our infant care needs to be addressed.

More than 28,000 infants under the age of one die each year in the United States. Two-thirds of the deaths of those infants are preterm babies.

But what if the lag is due to cultural issues, like obesity, drug usage, or gun violence? Then health care reform will do nothing to affect our worldwide ranking and instead we need to look at our society and values. Or if the United State’s emphasis on private health care is the cause, then we need to look at the structure of our health care system for solutions.

Yet no matter where you point the blame you can’t ignore that the United States spends over twice what most industrialized countries spend on health care, but continues to fall behind in infant mortality rates. Somewhere changes need to be made.

Kreisman Law Offices practices medical malpractice law and personal injury law in Illinois and Cook County, including the cities of Berwyn, Forest Park, Morton Grove and Wheeling.

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