Babies born in the United States have a higher chance of dying in their first month than babies in much of the developed world, according to a new report on infant mortality rates.
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Researchers at the World Health Organization looked at mortality rates for newborn babies over the last 20 years. Overall the rates of newborn deaths diminished, from 4.6 million in 1990 to 3.3 million in 2009, or from 33.2 deaths per 1,000 live births to 23.9 deaths per 1,000 births.
America made strides in the last two decades, but because it curtailed infant mortality rates by 26 percent, or less than the average drop, the United States now lags behind 40 other countries including Lithuania, Israel and Cuba. American newborns die at about the same rate as in Qatar, Croatia and the United Arab Emirates.
In some cases, deaths could be prevented by simple sanitary measures or by providing antibiotics. That is particularly true in countries towards the bottom of the list -- Afghan babies die at the rate of one per 19 in the first month of life, the worst recorded rate, and India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China and Democratic Republic of Congo produce more than half of the world's newborn deaths.
"We know that solutions as simple as keeping newborns warm, clean and properly breast fed can keep them alive," study researcher Joy Lawn of the Save the Children Foundation, which worked with the WHO on the report, told msnbc. "It isn't that you have to build invasive care units to halve your neonatal mortality."
Lawn added that in the United States, the biggest hazard comes from premature babies who require greater care, something that is often expensive, and face heightened risk for asphyxia during birth, or from severe infections such as blood poisoning and pneumonia. In many cases, a lack of properly trained medical professionals is the culprit.
"The global health worker crisis is the biggest factor in the deaths of mothers and children, and particularly the 3.3 million newborns dying needlessly each year. Training more midwives and more community health workers will allow many more lives to be saved," Lawn said.
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