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U.S. Slips Badly in Infant Mortality Fight, Panel Says

March 01, 1990|JANNY SCOTT | TIMES MEDICAL WRITER

"The reasons for the large and growing disparity between the health of black and white infants are not entirely understood," the report said. "Researchers cite many factors such as access to preventive health services, economic considerations and unhealthy life styles."

- The incidence of newborns exposed to drugs in the uterus quadrupled between 1985 and 1989, the commission found. The number of babies born to unmarried women in 1987--933,013 infants--was 40% higher than in 1980.

- Between 1980 and 1987, the percentage of women getting late or no prenatal care increased 26% for blacks and 17% for whites. In 1987, more than 74,000 pregnant women received no prenatal care at all. That represented a 50% rise over the 1980 rate.

Nearly 800 U.S. counties have no clinics offering prenatal care. States report that up to 75% of family physicians have stopped delivering babies since 1980. "In sum, the maternity care delivery system is failing those pregnant women most at risk," the report found.

Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) responded to the report by introducing legislation Wednesday that would require states by 1993 to provide Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and infants in families with an annual income of up to 185% of the poverty level.

The current level is 133%. (California already covers women and children in families with incomes of up to 200% of the poverty level under the state's Medi-Cal program for the poor.)

"It is unacceptable that in America today, infant mortality is higher than in all other industrialized nations," Bradley said. ". . . A country that can put men on the moon and can dream of sending men to Mars can surely find ways to add ounces to the birth weight of newborns."

Infant Mortality Rates

Chart shows infant mortality rates in developed countries, based on 1987 figures, the latest available.

Infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

Japan: 5.0 Sweden: 5.7 Finland: 5.8* Switzerland: 6.8 Canada: 7.3 Ireland: 7.4 Netherlands: 7.6 France: 7.6 Denmark: 8.3 Federal Republic of Germany: 8.3 Norway: 8.4 German Democratic Republic: 8.5 Spain: 8.5** Australia: 8.8* United Kingdom: 9.1 Belgium: 9.7 Italy: 9.8* Austria: 9.9 New Zealand: 10.0 United States: 10.1 Israel: 11.4* Greece: 12.6 * Rate is for 1986. ** Rate is for 1985. Source: United Nations Statistical Office, Population and Vital Statistics Report, April 1989.

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