Monday April 19 2021, 12.01am, The Times
A task force has been launched to investigate why the rate of babies dying in Birmingham is almost twice the national average.
A report has found that infant mortality levels in Birmingham are seven deaths per 1,000 live births compared with 3.9 deaths in England overall.
It equates to more than 100 babies dying before their first birthday each year in the city.
Death rates are highest in the areas of the city with the worst deprivation levels. Families of Pakistani origin are disproportionately affected, the data shows.
Local councillors voted for a multi-agency task force last week to reduce infant mortality in the city by at least 50 per cent by 2025. Its remit involves working with community groups and faith leaders to help minimise the risk factors.
Josie Anderson, from Bliss, a charity for babies born premature or sick, told The Guardian: “Research has shown women living in the most deprived areas had an 80 per cent higher risk of stillbirth and neonatal deaths compared to women living in the least deprived areas. There is quite a lot of intersection between women living in deprived areas and also ethnicity.”
The Birmingham city council report said previous research found that a fifth of infant deaths were caused by abnormalities at birth, the risk of which is doubled if parents are from the same wider family. Stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates are 60 per cent higher for babies of south Asian heritage in the UK overall compared with their white counterparts and 45 per cent higher for babies of black ethnicity.
The report said that the challenge in tackling the potential risk of marriages between cousins was “complicated by cultural sensitivities and misconceptions”. It also observed “inadequate knowledge and skills among healthcare professionals and low levels of trust among communities”.
Shabana Qureshi, from the Ashiana Community Project in Sparkbrook, southeast Birmingham, a report contributor, said there was awareness that marrying a close relative involved a risk around any babies.
Last year The Times reported that Britain was fifth from bottom among 27 European countries for infant mortality. A study by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found that Britain had 3.9 deaths per 1,000 live births between 2014 and 2018.
The report’s author, Ronny Cheung, said that the figures should be “a major wake-up call”. He said: “Children born in the UK are often worse off than those in other comparably wealthy countries. This is especially true if the child is from a less well-off background.”