CHICAGO—America may be the world’s superpower, but its survival rate for newborn babies ranks near the bottom among modern nations, better only than Latvia.
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 health care 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.
In the analysis of global infant mortality, Japan had the lowest newborn death rate, 1.8 per 1,000 and four countries tied for second place with 2 per 1,000—the Czech Republic, Finland, Iceland and Norway.
Still, it’s the impoverished nations that feel the full brunt of infant mortality, since they account for 99 percent of the 4 million annual deaths of babies in their first month. Only about 16,000 of those are in the United States, according to Save the Children.
The highest rates globally were in Africa and South Asia. With a newborn death rate of 65 out of 1,000 live births, Liberia ranked the worst.
The researchers also said lack of national health insurance and short maternity leaves likely contribute to the poor U.S. rankings. Those factors can lead to poor health care before and during pregnancy, increasing risks for premature births and low birth weight, which are the leading causes of newborn death in industrialized countries. Infections are the main culprit in developing nations, the report said.
Other possible factors in the U.S. include teen pregnancies and obesity rates, which both disproportionately affect African-American women and also increase risk for premature births and low birth weights.