INFANT MORTALITY: Birmingham sets goal to halve number
A goal to halve Birmingham’s “shocking” infant mortality – which is nearly twice the national average and bereaves two families per week – has been agreed.
A meeting of full council this week heard the concerning news that 100 Birmingham babies die every year before their first birthday.
And the rate has remained “stubbornly static” despite a national drop.
Birmingham has the third highest rate in England at seven deaths per 1,000 live births, after Stoke-on-Trent and Sandwell.
The England rate is 3.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to 2017-2019 figures.
The meeting heard rates are highest in deprived areas of the city and are also higher among Black African, Black British, Pakistani, Bangladeshi heritage families.
Risk factors include babies born prematurely, low birth-weight babies and lifestyle factors including smoking, obesity and living conditions.
The meeting also heard genes can be a factor and that in some cases infant mortality can be attributed to marriage between close blood relatives.
The council agreed recommendations in the health and social care overview and scrutiny committee’s report to form a taskforce to address the issue and set a goal to half infant mortality in the city by 2025.
Cllr Rob Pocock (Lab, Sutton Vesey), chair of the health and social care overview and scrutiny committee said: “Seven out of every 1,000 babies in our city will not live to see their first birthday. This is a tragedy that can and must be reduced.
“There are other cities with high levels of infant mortality and in our report we have quoted them – Blackpool, Kirklees, Manchester, Bradford, Leicester, Oldham, Nottingham, Rochdale, Derby, Liverpool and Luton.
“But none of these has an infant mortality rate as high as Birmingham. So, something is going wrong. We need to act to put it right.”
Addressing the main risk factors, he said: “All these conspire to create risk factors that produce the problem we have in this city.
“The encouraging part of this is these are modifiable factors, things we can influence to reduce infant mortality.
“We can reduce premature births by better maternal and antenatal care. We can reduce low birth-weight babies by early detection.
“We can improve healthy lifestyles of mothers and families by health promotion and support in those communities.”
The meeting heard factors also include genetic disorders, in some case due to marriages between close blood relatives.
Cllr Pocock said: “This is actually a common practice around the world. It doubles the risk of congenital disorders and the consequent risk of infant mortality. In our report we have not sought to exaggerate this issue. We have also not sought to ignore it.
“It is part and parcel of the range of complex factors we face when attempting to deal with the problems of infant mortality.”
Cllr Peter Fowler (Con, Harborne), seconded the motion and said the subject of marriages between close family members was one he was initially “fearful of making any comments on”.
He said councillors from a range of backgrounds have said to the committee “yes this is a problem within the Pakistani and Bangladeshi community”.
He said: “It is one they have said a younger generation is moving more away from.
“Our concern is about the disease and various other abnormalities that can come through the situation with second cousins or closer should I say.”
Cllr Paulette Hamilton (Lab, Holyhead), cabinet member for health and social care, said she was “committed” to reversing the situation in Birmingham.
She said: “More work is also needed with women from ethnic minorities in relation to drug and substance misuse and obesity while maintaining good mental health, physical health and using stress reduction strategies before becoming pregnant to increase their chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.”
Referencing unions between close relatives, she said: “It is a sensitive issue. There is awareness within communities on the significance of consanguineous abnormalities and genetics that is significantly higher in close unions.
“We need to do much more to promote access and a greater use of services that are already available such as genetic services.”
Cllr Morriam Jan (Lib Dem, Perry Barr), discussed the wider issues in the UK, and said: “A number of factors suggest the UK is not providing optimal conditions for children to survive and thrive.
“Firstly, the UK performs poorly on several measures of child health and wellbeing including mortality compared with other European countries.
“Secondly, there are stark inequalities in survival chances between rich and poor children in the UK.
“Finally, many children’s deaths are potentially preventable although it is difficult to measure avoidability on a population basis.
“Comparing how children fare in different countries shows that Britain’s children unfortunately are amongst the more deprived in Western Europe.”
Addressing the issue of marriages between close relatives, Cllr Mohammed Idrees (Lab, Alum Rock) said: “Infant mortality rates among Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities are far higher compared to other ethnic groups.
“One of the reasons seen as contributing to this is cousin marriages.
“Our observation is in the last ten to 15 years, as more and more girls and boys are going to colleges and universities, there is a trend that they are not marrying each other as it used to be.
“So in the next five years if the infant mortality rate amongst these two communities is not coming down, then we will have to look at what other factors could be causing this.”
Words: Mark Cardwell, Local Democracy Reporter
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