Infant Mortality

One would think that with all the tools at their disposal, the media types could so some of the complicated analysis to understand the numbers.

On the August 31 NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams introduced a story along with his guest Dr. Nancy Snyderman about the dismal state of affairs with regard to infant mortality in the United States. Dr. Snyderman said that "the numbers are not very pretty." That "Cuba, Malaysia, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, they are ahead of the United States, which now ranks 41st in infant mortality." And that "no matter how you massage those numbers, we were ranked 29th five years ago." She summed it up by saying "this is dismal and, frankly, appalling."

In spite of Dr. Snyderman's implication that any other conclusion would come as the result of "massaging", one wishes that some massaging, or at least light touching, of the numbers would have occurred to find out what is really behind them.

As pointed out here , much of this dismal and appalling ranking is due to comparing apples and oranges. Since the US apparantly the only country that counts infant mortality with rigor, of course other countries can and do rank higher.

Many countries try to exclude certain categories from their statistics. For example, Switzerland doesn't include babies shorter than 30cm.

And how can the US favorably compare to countries where "babies who are born at less than 28 weeks, weighing less than 1,000 grams or measuring less than 35 centimeters are not counted as live births if they die within seven days?"

In fact, America's low ranking may really be a function of the superior care offered.

American advances in medical treatment now make it possible to save babies who would surely have died only a few decades ago. Until recently, very-low-birth-weight babies, those weighing less than 3 pounds, almost always died. Now some of these babies survive with the help of breathing assistance and other recent inventions.

While such vulnerable babies may live with advanced medical assistance and technology, low-birth-weight babies (weighing less than 5.5 pounds) recently had an infant mortality rate 20 times higher than heavier babies, according to the WHO. And these deaths count as infant deaths even though most would have been counted as stillbirths if they hadn't received the gift of life, however transitory.

Ironically, American doctors' ability to save babies' lives causes higher infant mortality numbers here than would be the case with less advanced medical treatment.

Good Morning America on ABC, the Today show on NBC, Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News and CNN may agree with the State of the World's Mothers report that states:

The United States has more neonatologists and neonatal intensive care beds per person than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, but its newborn [death rate] rate is higher than any of those countries.

But their agreement does not make the statement true. They should take a deeper look into the statistical causes for the disparities. But since they haven't, in the end, Dr. Snyderman may be right. This is dismal and, frankly, appalling.

No comments: