Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 17:03 UK

Ethnic infant mortality 'higher'

Premature baby
A higher proportion of Caribbean babies are born small

Infant mortality rates are much higher among some ethnic groups in England and Wales, figures show.

The death rate among babies from Pakistani and Caribbean communities born in 2005 was twice as high as that among white babies.

The Office for National Statistics figures show the death rate among Caribbean babies was 9.8 per 1,000, and among Pakistani babies 9.6 per 1,000.

For white babies, the figure was 4.5 per 1,000.

Overall, Asian and Black ethnic groups accounted for around 11% of live births in 2005 - but 17% of infant deaths.

The ONS figures show that the death rate among Pakistani babies was high throughout the first year of life.

Death rates in the Caribbean group were particularly high in the first month of life.

Half of all infant deaths in the Pakistani group were due to congenital abnormalities, compared with only a quarter of deaths in the white British group.

In the Caribbean group 67% of infant deaths were linked to low birthweight, and babies being born prematurely. The figure among the white British group was just 44%.

This is the first time the ONS has produced a breakdown of infant mortality by ethnic group.

In total, around 3,200 babies died in infancy (before the age of one year), of which 2,000 were white.

Michael Heard, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the figures were not surprising.

He said part of the problem was that people from ethnic communities did not always access health care effectively.

However, he said there might also be specific cultural reasons to explain the differences.

For instance, cousin marriage - which raises the risk of congenital abnormality - was more common in the Pakistani community, for which termination is often frowned upon.

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