Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Asian infant death rate 'higher'

By Ben Marshall
BBC Asian Network

Dr Tim Haywood
Dr Haywood says there is a "greater medical need" among Asian babies

Critically ill babies born to South Asian mothers in the UK are more likely to die than other babies, research shows.

The study was based on more than 40,000 children admitted into paediatric intensive care in England and Wales between 2004 and 2007.

Researchers said that 44% more South Asian children, a large proportion of whom were babies, died when admitted.

Dr Roger Parslow, from Leeds University, said it was not clear why.

The government-commissioned investigation, which was one of the largest of its kind, established an overall death rate of 4.89% among the 40,303 children in its group - 1,971 deaths in 29 hospitals over the four-year period.

However the death rate of children born to South Asian mothers was higher at 7.11%.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show the overall infant mortality rate in England and Wales is 5.2 deaths in every 1,000 births.

But it also has found that 8.3 out of every 1,000 children born to mothers whose country of birth was Bangladesh, India or Pakistan died before they were one.

The rate is higher for those born to Pakistani mothers - 10.5 deaths in every 1,000.

Dr Roger Parslow
Dr Roger Parslow said underlying conditions could factor

The report was completed by a US expert and seven others from across the UK, including Dr Parslow, a senior lecturer in the Department of Paediatric Epidemiology at the University of Leeds.

He said: "We don't know why this is.

"It is possible that there are underlying conditions in the Asian population that are more prevalent."

Researchers suggested first cousin marriages often resulted in children with health problems.

Dr Tim Haywood, consultant in Paediatric Intensive Care at Leeds General Infirmary said: "We find that consanguinity within Asian parents is a significant risk factor for mortality in these patients."

Dr Haywood said they saw "a greater medical need" among British Asian infants, adding his team expected "more complicated cases and a higher mortality within this population group".

The report also found that it is common for South Asian children to have more than one disease or health condition at the same time.

While the researchers could not work out exactly why more South Asian children died, infant mortality can be caused by low birth weight and poor healthcare.

The researchers said a poorer quality of life, health inequalities, deprivation and low incomes in Asian communities could also contribute.

When we looked at deprivation and ethnicity, it was the South Asian children from more affluent parts of society who are more likely to die
Dr Roger Parslow

However, the report found Asian infants from less deprived areas were in fact more likely to die before the age of one.

Dr Roger Parslow said: "When we looked at deprivation and ethnicity, it was the South Asian children from more affluent parts of society who are more likely to die.

"In fact there's a slight reduction in the most deprived South Asian groups, which we can't account for."

Dr Parslow has called for more to be done to educate Asian families about the risks associated with childbirth, but some work is already under way.

The Pregnancy Outreach Worker Programme which aims to help reduce Asian infant mortality has been operating in Birmingham for more than two years.

Sohpia Sharif and Gurdeep Hanspaul
Outreach workers Sophia Sharif and Gurdeep Hanspaul try to reduce risks

Twenty-six community workers support women during their pregnancies.

Programme manager Gurdeep Hanspaul said: "It's about reducing the risks associated with issues pregnant women might have.

"We get them to focus on their pregnancy, making sure the pregnancy is healthy and therefore the baby is healthy."

Sophia Sharif, a pregnancy outreach worker, said she was currently helping a Pakistani woman who is expecting her sixth child and suffers from depression and self-harms.

"A lot of south Asian ladies don't know what help's out there for them," she said.

"I get a lot of clients who don't speak English very well and they're often isolated.

"We educated and empower them with anything to help maintain a healthy pregnancy."

The Born in Bradford project is trying to recruit more than 12,000 expectant mothers and their children, to help them gather information to tackle the problem.

The city's infant mortality rate is higher than the national average.

In London's Tower Hamlets, an advisory service for Bangladeshi women and promotes NHS services and provides health information advice.

Dr Roger Parslow said the research findings should be pursued "rigorously".

The researchers will now look for more answers by examining South Asian babies' death certificates.

You can hear more on Asian Network Reports at 1230 and 1800 GMT on the BBC Asian Network on DAB digital radio or online via BBC iplayer .

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