Among 33 industrialized nations, the United States is tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies, according to a new report. Latvia's rate is 6 per 1,000.
"We are the wealthiest country in the world, but there are still pockets of our population who are not getting the health care they need," said Mary Beth Powers, a reproductive health adviser for the U.S.-based Save the Children, which compiled the rankings based on health data from countries and agencies worldwide.
The U.S. ranking is driven partly by racial and income disparities. Among U.S. blacks, there are 9 deaths per 1,000 live births, closer to rates in developing nations than to those in the industrialized world.
Our health care system focuses on providing high-tech services for complicated cases. We do this very well...What we do not do is provide basic primary and preventive health care services.
Kenneth Thorpe, Emory University health policy expert
"Every time I see these kinds of statistics, I'm always amazed to see where the United States is because we are a country that prides itself on having such advanced medical care and developing new technology ... and new approaches to treating illness. But at the same time not everybody has access to those new technologies," said Dr. Mark Schuster, a Rand Co. researcher and pediatrician with the University of California, Los Angeles.
The Save the Children report, released Monday, comes just a week after publication of another report humbling to the U.S. health care system. That study showed that white, middle-aged Americans are far less healthy than their peers in England, despite U.S. health care spending that is double that in England.
In the United States, researchers noted that the population is more racially and economically diverse than many other industrialized countries, making it more challenging to provide culturally appropriate health care.
About half a million U.S. babies are born prematurely each year, data show. Black infants are twice as likely as white babies to be premature, to have a low birth weight and to die at birth, according to Save the Children.
The researchers also said lack of national health insurance and short maternity leaves likely contribute to the poor U.S. rankings.
Other possible factors in the U.S. include teen pregnancies and obesity rates, which both disproportionately affect black women and increase risk for premature births and low birth weights.
In past reports by Save the Children — released ahead of Mother's Day — U.S. mothers' well-being has consistently ranked far ahead of those in developing countries but poorly among industrialized nations. This year, the United States tied for last place with the United Kingdom on indicators including mortality risks and contraception use.
While the gaps for infants and mothers contrast sharply with the nation's image as a world leader, Emory University health policy expert Kenneth Thorpe said the numbers are not surprising.
"Our health care system focuses on providing high-tech services for complicated cases. We do this very well," Thorpe said.
"What we do not do is provide basic primary and preventive health care services."
© Copyright Associated Press 2006