Infant Mortality in China

I chose to look at infant mortality in China.  Though the infant mortality rate for China is improving, I found it interesting (and sad) that China, along with several other developing countries are struggling with infant mortality rates and quality of health care.

Until fairly recently, infant mortality in China was extremely high.  Certain studies have shown that compared to babies born in urban delivery rooms, “babies born in rural hospitals are four times more likely to die”.  Another factor that has greatly contributed to China’s high infant mortality is sub par health care in rural hospitals.  In the past few decades, infant mortality in China has greatly decreased.  Most articles seem to agree that the reason for this decrease in infant mortality is mainly because of the effort to promote hospital births by China’s government and Ministry of Health and the increase in funding for better health care and systems.  The combination of improvements in health care, governmental funding and promotion of hospital births show promise for an even greater decrease in China’s infant mortality rate in future years. (Burkitt, 2011)

According to anthropologist, Nancy Riley, the infant mortality rate was as high as 139 deaths per 1,000 births in 1954.  That rate dropped to around 40 deaths per 1,000 births in the late 1990’s.  Other factors also contributing to China’s decrease in infant mortality include improvements in water quality and social and economic changes (Riley, 2004).  Riley’s work in this area also include other trends and challenges in China’s population such as political changes, fertility, the expansion of health care, and environmental challenges.  Her assessment of all these different factors and their effect on China’s population is really interesting to look at (if you have the time to skim through it).

I think seeing what China’s government was able to do in terms of bettering health care, especially in urban areas of China, shows promise for developing countries still working on building and improving their own health care systems.

Burkitt, Laurie.  2011. “Report: China Sees Dramatic Drop in Infant Deaths.” China Real Time Report, September 11.  Accessed August 9, 2013.

Riley, Nancy E. 2004. “China’s Population: New Trends and Challenges.” Population Bulletin 59(2). Accessed August 9, 2013.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Keiana Smith says:

    I think that we all can agree that infant mortality is horrifying and unimaginable in the minds of parents. Although the numbers of infant mortality in China are decreasing, it is still a problem globally. I believe it is safe to say that with Medical Anthropologist studying in various countries worldwide; infant mortality has come to the attention of many governments, healthcare providers, and organizations to end this health issue. Because infant mortality in China is higher in rural areas, the theory would be that it is because of the lack of “adequate” healthcare in which you pointed out. We can also look at the culture and environment that the infants are born in. Also the conditions of the hospitals, for example, that may not be equipped to handle a high risk preganancy such as a Breeched Birth. We can also look at that the preganant mothers may not have access to prenatal vitamins are any family planning programs to help them with certain diets or exercises and regular doctor visits. With that being said, it is also good to keep in mind that people in the rural areas of China stand firm on traditional practices of medicine and may not seek treatment at a hospital. Medical Anthropologist have used the methods of getting the government making the aware and getting them involved in preventing such high incidences of infant mortality. They have also formed and got other organizations such as the World Health Organization involved in preventing high infant mortality rates. I also believe this has allowed for Western influence on medicine to be introduced to the rural areas of China to help provide better care and treatment to pregnant mothers before and after birth. With the help and knowledge of Medical Anthropology, it has made it possible for the steady decrease in infant mortality. This was a very good and informative post Amber.

  2. Meghan Kinter says:

    Infant mortality is a sickening global issue, and its hard to even imagine (because I in the West) that there are still places in the world experiencing such preventable hardships. It is sad to think that depending on where your child is born it could have a higher risk of dying due to poor conditions and medical care. Medical anthropologists used research and statistical methods in order to bring this issue to light. By bringing this issue to the attention of the Chinese government and health officials as well as to the world it then allows for action to take place. This is where applying anthropology comes into play, it allows for a better understanding of the issues so the optimal solution can take place. By bringing the issue to the attention of officials better health care started to be provided in sub par areas. If the issue of rising infant mortality had gone under the radar any longer who knows what detrimental effects it could have had for the country of China. As Amber had mentioned in her post above, with the decreasing number of infant mortality in China today, it gives hope to other countries experiencing similar issues.

  3. Francesca says:

    Infant mortality is a very prevalent global health problem which has successfully been addressed in various countries. I found your post very interesting, I enjoyed how you did focus on how the infant mortality rate has improved in China. As stated in your post, the theory behind the infant mortality in China is the promotion of hospital births in China and to increase hospital funding. Furthermore, theory’s for this high infant mortality rate is due to environmental and cultural factors such as political changes and environmental challenges. The methods used are the ways to get the government to understand the problem and to help educate the people of China, such as getting patients to give birth at hospitals. Applying anthropology can help improve the infant mortality rate by showing government officials but this global health crisis is reflection of the cultural in which they live in. In addition, applying anthropology could help government officials find effective ways to communicate this crisis to people in their country. Having an anthropologist help create commercials for people in different areas on China instead of making a commercial in the United States would be much more effective seeing that our western ideas of birth may be much different then the Chinese.

  4. Aaron Schmidt says:

    I feel like Nancy Riley’s paper is similar to the Explanatory Models Approach. She shows how China’s social word affects and is affected by an illness, in this case, infant mortality. Infant mortality can be seen as an illness because it deals with the personal feelings of everyone who experiences this tragedy. She looks at how the culture and history of China caused this high rate of infant mortality. She materializes models like poor healthcare, rural areas, and political changes to identify why this problem exists, and how this problem has decreased in recent years. China was subjected to many wars and political party changes in the mid 20th century. There were millions of peasants that lived in poor conditions, where there was little to no healthcare available. Nancy Riley shows statistical evidence that political programs and expanding healthcare have decreased infant mortality rates in the last 50 years. She shows that with China’s large population, there are still a lot of poor rural areas that have poor healthcare. Because of malnutrition, birthing practices, and diseases, there is a much higher rate of infant deaths in rural areas. I think anthropology was necessary to identify the high rate of infant mortality. Anthropology looks at things like high population density, poor healthcare, poor rural areas, low living standards, and different birthing practices as reasons for the high rate of infant deaths. Biologically, there is nothing different between infants in a city and a rural area. But, there is a large social difference that contributes to this problem. We can use anthropology to find ways to change birthing customs, provide more and better healthcare, and increase the standard of living in rural areas in order to combat infant mortality.

  5. Jacqueline Godin says:

    I think the first thing anthropologists would look at regarding infant mortality would be in what areas of the country are the death rates the highest. Then they would have to look at all the possible reasons as to why these children are not surviving. I believe the next step would be to talk to the people living in both areas with higher and lower infant mortality rates and see what each group is doing differently and what kind of environmental factors differ. By looking at all the factors and talking to the people, an anthropologist should be able to figure out (or at least get a good idea) why the death rate is so high.

    Applying anthropology to the problem of infant mortality in China would help to get a better understanding because only anthropologists take culture and individual differences into account when looking at it. For example, as you mentioned above, Nancy Riley looked at everything about China, not just the people, but also different facts about the country itself, such as political changes. An anthropologist would try to look at the big picture and figure out a way to help everyone considering all factors, whereas a normal doctor might only consider things affecting their patients directly.

  6. obrienry says:

    I found this topic to be pretty shocking and sad. Although its a very sad topic, the statistics and the strong correlation to the areas and condition in which infants are born into make a lot of sense. The anthropologist that you quoted in your post, Nancy Riley, used statistical evidence to bring this issue to light. Quoting the shocking number of deaths per 1,000 births in recent years compared to now she stated that the mortality rate was decreasing, which is a very good thing. However, it is going to take a lot of help from the government to implement programs of education and awareness for better healthcare systems if China wants to keep these numbers decreasing in the future. I believe that the application of anthropology to this specific global health problem was a serious advantage. The publication of Riley’s findings showed that she took into account the cultural availability of resources for the healthcare systems in specific areas and how things like the improvement of social and economic ways affected these results. These statistics have seemed to provoke a surge in awareness of the issue among the people and also an influx of governmental funding and promotions in order to help decrease the infant mortality rates.

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