Infant mortality rates and importance of them

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When reports evaluating America's health care are released, many articles place heavy emphasis on infant mortality rates and its analysis. These reports are directly measured with a nation's health-care development, showing improvements in surgical procedures or a break in innovative technology. Nearly every country in the world, including the U.S. and European countries, takes careful consideration of its infant mortality rate when measuring its own health care system or placing their data on the world stage for international comparisons. Infant mortality rates, important pieces of statistical information to a country, have prompted questions of whether a single set of numbers validly assesses a nation's overall healthcare quality or merely serves as an unreliable measure taken too critically.

Infant mortality rates provide unreliable statistical data primarily due to a lack of standardized measures in recording infant deaths across countries, resulting in misleading information. Various countries throughout the world define infant mortality differently, which Jonathan Cohn describes as "crude measures" (Hogberg). Some countries consider any infant who "breathes or shows any evidence of life" viable as referenced in the Demographic Yearbook[1] 2002, and others "must be at least 30 centimeters long" to be considered living as stated by Nicholas Eberstadt (Hogberg). Because of unparalleled measurements across nations, Country A may have its infant mortality rate elevated or lowered significantly in relation to Country B standards. For example, Country A, with an infant mortality rate of 2.7, counts every sign of life as a live birth. Country B, with an infant mortality rate of 5.8, counts only infants weighing over 500 grams at birth, resulting in a larger tallied number of deaths. If Country A were to adjust to Country B's standards, it would most likely produce a higher mortality rate. Without a consistent system, both infant mortality rates and rankings are considerably skewed. Due to an unorganized system of infant death registration, countries including New Zealand and Australia are prone to losing data, and some exclude "infants who die soon after birth" from their data altogether (Hogberg, MacDorman, and Matthews). Underreporting results from these unreliable practices, inadvertently shedding the image of a nation with a higher quality healthcare. Some of the top tier European countries could be as low as the United States, or the United States itself could rise to the upper third. Without a standardized system, the accuracy of world healthcare rankings is particularly questionable. Erratic reports, consequential from mendacious variables, send messages that do not effectively measure a healthcare system.

Infant mortality rates reflect socioeconomic factors of the country more than the quality of its healthcare directly. The rates usually reflect the "obscure...persisting wide disparities among racial groups"; statistics from the Department of Health and Services show the correlation between infant mortality and ethnicity ("The U.S. Health"). As of 2008, African Americans have an infant mortality rate of 13.6 out of every thousand births; Whites, 5.66 out of every thousand births (Blue). The present racial disparity links to the disadvantages of minority groups such as varying living conditions, futile financial aid, and lack of proper prenatal education. Without proper prenatal education, mothers lack knowledge in caring for their children properly before, during, and after conception. Depending on the regional areas in which these minority groups settle, access to healthcare may also be limited, affecting the care of infants. Financial issues in a country again indicate a relationship to the infant mortality rate. Research from the University of Maine reports that " Denmark and Germany have health systems which are very fair in financial contributions to the system, [but] other countries such as the U.S. have very unfair systems of health financing" ("The U.S. Health"). Denmark and Germany, both highly industrialized European countries, detail significantly lower infant mortality rates than the United States, which coincidentally also spends the most in healthcare. Financial factors do not play a significant role in the healthcare system itself, but more on the government policies regarding a country's financial distribution. Most issues point towards a nation's socioeconomic issues rather than its healthcare related problems upon evaluating an overwhelmingly large analysis on infant mortality rates.

On the other hand, infant mortality rates can advise a country regarding the direction of its healthcare focus. One of the more discussed reasons for the United States having a higher mortality rate is that many physicians think the United States are focusing more on treating issues, rather than preventing them (Park 48). This observation serves as an important indicator to the focus of the United States; the quality of the United States' health care may be seriously undermined, and the improvement of the nation's healthcare is slowed by the friction of misdirected focus. Because of the mistake physicians are making by trying to cure a dying baby rather than preventing the mortal situation initially, American infant mortality rates are unreasonably in the lower third of industrialized country rankings. The United States, honored as the richest and most powerful nation in the world, faces embarrassment in an enigmatically low ranking in an area in which it is expected to excel. Relatively high infant mortality rates points the U.S. in a direction to increase its efforts in a new light. Data reports from the CIA reveal a correlation between infant mortality rate and the number of physicians per thousand people, which show an average of 337 doctors in European countries with an infant mortality rate of less 4.5 and the United States with 256 doctors with an infant mortality rate of 6.26m (The World Factbook). A shocking shortage of physicians in the United States should alarm Americans who need to shift their current health focus to providing more doctors. Mothers may not be receiving adequate care from obstetricians or infants may be treated with carelessness by pediatricians because a work shortage may not allow a physician to provide the focus and personal care to every patient. Infant mortality rates are important indicators to direct the focus of a country regarding the improvement of its healthcare. Inadequate systems of recording infant deaths greatly hamper the credibility of publicly reported data used to rank the quality of a country's healthcare.

Another area where infant mortality plays a role in healthcare is determining the effectiveness of a country's medical technologies and treatments. Alice Park in a health issue of TIME magazine reports that some women "take advantage of reproductive technologies [that] cause chances of multiple births, which in turn increase the likelihood of premature birth" (Park 47). Premature birth increases infant mortality to a dangerous extent, given the fact that premature infants will feature undeveloped lungs and brains. Since premature births are increased, the information points towards unproductive medical technologies, which threaten the state of a nation's overall healthcare quality. Premature births are also caused by fertility treatments leading to multiple births, resulting in early cesarean sections (Stobbe). The impractical nature of these fertility treatments essentially represents an uncivilized treatment system, which in turn affects the overall methods of treatment of the entire healthcare structure. Infant mortality rates in the United States did not show a considerable decrease until the development of vaccinations against diseases targeting infants (Park 42). Unlike the previous circumstances, this situation proves that the success of ground-breaking technology dramatically increased the quality of the nation's healthcare. Specified to the efficacy of a country's medical technologies and treatments, infant mortality rates provide well-informed evidence of the caliber of a healthcare system.

Infant mortality rates are commonly used to evaluate a nation's overall healthcare status. I, however, do not think that rankings of countries' infant mortality rates are valuable indicators. While the data may provide some insight into birthing methods, prenatal care, and postnatal care, most studies clearly illustrate that causes of infant mortality are not solely medically based. In fact, most causes of infant mortality are economically and socially based; therefore, infant mortality rankings have only a modest validity in verifying the qualifications of a nation's health care. Upon analyzing demographic data, access to health care is prominently dependent on environmental factors, such as where one lives (Meckel 281). By comparing population maps to healthcare access charts, it is apparent that there is a direction relationship between areas with higher population densities and higher healthcare access. Cities with large populations show a large contrast in racial disparity versus infant mortality rates, in which African Americans and Native Americans have higher rates than Whites, but both Hispanics and Asians have lower infant mortality rates. The causes for the disparities are indistinguishable, which makes infant mortality rates a defective means of examining healthcare. Some variables involved in reducing infant mortality rates over the decades included a higher standard of living, prenatal education, and teenage pregnancy education (Meckel 281). These factors show no relevancy towards healthcare. The decrease in infant mortality in this case was the effects of societal reforms and not actions dealing with the overall healthcare system. In my opinion, the system of calculation infant mortality rates confronts the most disconcerting problem: Measurements are discrepant. It is illogical to compare uncustomary statistics and use it to criticize a nation's quality of healthcare.

In order to effectively rank a country's health care quality, and ultimately its system, emphasis needs to be placed on more information pertaining as closely to the healthcare itself without outlying factors. Infant mortality rates appear with too much gravity in every healthcare analysis report. Infant mortality rates serve as extremely important statistical information; however, less weight could be placed on the rates itself regarding the rankings of healthcare quality. Instead, infant mortality rates can be analyzed to improve socioeconomic issues within society.

[1] A collection of demographic statistics assembled by experts internationally and published by the United Nations for the use of economists, demographers, etc.