Taskforce publishes report into infant mortality

Pakistani Birmingham families disproportionately affected by high infant mortality says council report.

A new taskforce which is being set up to tackle high infant mortality rates in Birmingham has been welcomed by health campaigners as figures show infant mortality rates in the city are nearly twice the national average, with families from Pakistani backgrounds disproportionately affected.

A report released by Birmingham Council’s Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee that was first reported by the Guardian shows the infant mortality rate in Birmingham is seven deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 3.9 deaths in England as a whole.

Death rates are highest in the areas of the city with the worst deprivation, a key longstanding issue for the city where 28.1% of children live in low-income families compared with 17% nationally.

The data shows one in 188 Asian and Asian British babies were stillborn compared to one in every 295 white British babies. A fifth of all infant deaths are due to birth abnormalities – the risk of which is doubled by consanguineous marriage (marriage between couples related as second cousins or closer).

Last week Birmingham councillors voted in favour of establishing a new multi-agency taskforce with the goal of reducing infant mortality in the city by at least 50% by 2025. The taskforce will also work with community groups and faith leaders in the city to help minimise risk factors associated with high infant mortality.

Caroline Lee-Davey, the Chief Executive of Bliss, the UK’s leading charity for babies born premature and sick, said: “We welcome this new multi-agency taskforce and hope it will help identify the actions that need to be taken to reduce infant mortality rates in Birmingham.

“It is deeply concerning that the infant mortality rate in the city is nearly twice the national average, with families from Pakistani backgrounds disproportionately affected.

“Asian and Asian British babies had a 59% increased risk of neonatal mortality compared to white babies. This variation points to ongoing health inequalities which must be addressed as a matter of urgency to ensure every baby born in Birmingham has the best chance of survival.”

Shabana Qureshi, the wellbeing manager at Ashiana Community Project in Sparkbrook, an inner-city area with the second-highest non-white population in Birmingham, contributed to the report. “In terms of the scientific rationale as to why intermarriage is such a risk, I think there’s some awareness but it’s limited,” she said.

“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% or more of the population practice consanguinity. It’s something that’s quite normalised.”