Although it includes high praise for Japan, the entire UNICEF survey is a sobering report.
Going through a pregnancy can be a whirlwind of emotions, from anticipation and excitement one moment to anxiety and stress the next. There are so many potential pitfalls and disasters that could happen, it’s hard not to reach the moment of childbirth without at least one major scare in the form of a test result or unusual feeling in the womb.
In fact, in Japan the whole concept of a baby shower is rather strange for people. After all, it’s the literal definition of counting your chickens before they hatch. And yet, ironically, Japan is also statistically the safest place to have baby showers. According to a UNICEF survey it is the safest country for newborn babies in the first month of their lives. The report, titled Every Child Alive, states that the mortality rate of children under one month is one in 1,111 – the lowest in the world next to Iceland’s one in 1,000 and Singapore’s one in 909.
Lowest neonatal mortality rates
1 – Japan (1 in 1,111)
2 – Iceland (1 in 1,000)
3 – Singapore (1 in 909)
4 – Finland (1 in 833)
5 – Estonia (1 in 769)
5 – Slovenia (1 in 769)
7 – Cyprus (1 in 714)
8 – Belarus (1 in 667)
8 – Luxembourg – (1 in 667)
8 – Norway – (1 in 667)
8 – South Korea – (1 in 667)
Looking simply at the disparity among the top ten, with Japan’s mortality rate nearly half that of Belarus, Luxembourg, Norway, and South Korea’s, foreshadows the bad news in this report. Many other countries are in hard situations according to UNICEF, which estimates that babies born in developing countries are nine times more likely on average to die than those in wealthy nations.
Highest neonatal mortality rates
1 – Pakistan (1 in 22)
2 – Central African Republic (1 in 24)
3 – Afghanistan (1 in 25)
4 – Somalia (1 in 26)
5 – Lesotho (1 in 26)
6 – Guinea-Bissau (1 in 26)
7 – South Sudan (1 in 26)
8 – Cote d’Ivoire (1 in 27)
9 – Mali (1 in 28)
10 – Chad (1 in 28)
However, newborn mortality is a global problem, with approximately 2.6 million babies dying in their first month every year. It’s a staggering number that gave most readers in Japan a reason to hold off on the celebrations for their own nation’s accomplishment.
“I cried while reading that. The world is hard…”
“Living here we just assume this level of care is normal. It’s not normal.”
“Wow! Health care in Japan is better than I thought.”
“But there still are deaths. We have to improve.”
“I know I’d get attacked for saying such a thing, but if people stopped getting pregnant in unsafe conditions, wouldn’t that help?”
“Just accepting these things as normal will only ensure that they stay that way. The first step is to know that we can change it by taking action.”
Considering that many people in Japan were hardly aware of their own neonatal mortality rate’s standing, it’s probably unfair to assume that people in Chad or Lesotho would be either, as one comment assumed. Everyone just knows the environment in which they live and giving birth is a natural part of daily life wherever you are.
The Every Child Alive report outlines that in many cases these high mortality rates are closely attributed to the quality of healthcare available. This means that relatively simple improvements to the training and equipment of medical professionals in these countries can significantly reduce the number of newborn deaths each year.
It’s not an impossible task at all, and perhaps as the nation with the lowest newborn mortality rate, Japan should lead the way in helping out our less fortunate neighbors through groups like UNICEF or MSF. Then our country can have a statistic to really be proud of.