Advising with empathy and experience

Major taskforce underway in Birmingham to tackle high baby death rate.


A taskforce is being set up to tackle baby deaths in Birmingham, after a report revealed that the city’s infant mortality rates, especially involving families with Pakistani origins, are nearly double the national average.

Birmingham City councillors said the report made uncomfortable reading, highlighting ethnicity, deprivation and health inequalities as central to the death rates which equate to more than 100 babies dying before their first birthday in the city every year.

According to the report, Birmingham’s infant mortality rate is seven deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 3.9 deaths in England as a whole but without numbers falling in recent years, as has been the case nationally.

Death rates are highest in the most deprived parts of the city, a key issue in Birmingham where 28.1% of children live in low-income families compared with 17% nationally.

As a result of the report’s findings, a new multi-agency taskforce has been set up with the aim of cutting the city’s infant mortality by at least 50% by 2025, and working with community groups and faith leaders to help minimise risk factors.

The report said data from Birmingham’s 2011 census showed Pakistani, black African and Afro-Caribbean populations are overrepresented in child deaths, and analysis from the city’s Child Death Overview Panel highlighted Pakistani families as being particularly affected.

Nationally, stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates - deaths within 28 days of birth - are 60% higher for babies of Asian and Asian-British ethnicity compared with white babies and 45% higher for black or black-British ethnicity. This equates to one in 188 Asian, or Asian-British, babies being stillborn compared with one in every 295 white babies.

The report said a fifth of infant deaths in Birmingham were caused by birth abnormalities, where the risk is doubled by consanguineous marriage, marriage between couples related as second cousins or closer.

Wellbeing manager at Ashiana Community Project, Sparkbrook, an inner-city area with the second-highest non-white population in Birmingham, Shabana Qureshi, who contributed to the report said: “There is awareness that when you marry a closer relative, there is a higher risk that your child may have some complications surrounding its birth.

“However, I think that’s often dismissed because the communities we are working with are predominantly of Pakistani origin and, in Pakistan, 50% or more of the population practice consanguinity.”

Shabana Qureshi added that “consistent and culturally sensitive” messaging was crucial to improving genetic literacy in the community, but stressed that child poverty was still the main factor that needed addressing.

She said: “Across all of the ethnic groups, including Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black communities, you’re more likely to experience higher levels of perinatal death or stillbirth due to socioeconomic deprivation.

“We need to address that blatant inequality so a baby born in a particular area to a person of a particular ethnicity has just as much a chance of survival as a baby born in an affluent area.”