Birmingham councillors have voted to establish a new multi-agency taskforce to reduce infant mortality in the city by at least 50 per cent by 2025.
A report has revealed that infant mortality rates in the city are nearly twice the national average, with families from Pakistani backgrounds disproportionately affected.
It highlighted deprivation, ethnicity and health inequalities as key factors in the stubbornly high numbers, which equate to more than 100 babies dying before their first birthday in the city every year, reported The Guardian.
The infant mortality rate in Birmingham is seven deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 3.9 deaths in England as a whole, and numbers have not declined in recent years as they have done nationally.
Death rates are highest in the areas of the city with the worst deprivation, a key issue in Birmingham where 28.1 per cent of children live in low-income families compared with 17 per cent nationally.
The report said data from Birmingham’s 2011 census showed Pakistani, black African and Afro-Caribbean populations were overrepresented in child deaths, and analysis from the city’s Child Death Overview Panel highlighted Pakistani families as being particularly affected, The Guardian report added.
Nationally, stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates (death within 28 days of birth) are 60 per cent higher for babies of Asian and Asian British ethnicity compared with babies of white ethnicity, and 45 per cent higher for babies of black or black British ethnicity.
This equates to one in 188 Asian or Asian British babies being stillborn compared with one in every 295 babies of white ethnicity.
“Really, more work does need to be done to understand why there is such a significant and frankly unacceptable variation among different communities,” Josie Anderson, the policy, research and campaigns manager at Bliss, the leading UK 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.”
The report said a fifth of infant deaths in Birmingham were caused by abnormalities at birth, the risk of which is doubled by consanguineous marriage (marriage between couples related as second cousins or closer), a study has shown.
“There is awareness that when you marry a closer relative, there is a higher risk that your child may have some complications surrounding its birth. But I think that’s often dismissed because the communities we are working with are predominantly of Pakistani origin and in Pakistan 50 per cent or more of the population practice consanguinity. It’s something that’s quite normalised,” Shabana Qureshi, the wellbeing manager at Ashiana Community Project in Sparkbrook, and one of the contributors to the report, told the newspaper.
“Across all of the ethnic groups, including Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black communities, you’re more likely to experience higher levels of perinatal death or stillbirth due to socioeconomic deprivation.”