The world reached an important milestone on Monday, October 31st. The UN reported that there are now 7 billion people on the planet. Marking such a milestone was no easy task. Every second approximately 4 births and 2 deaths occur worldwide. That makes it nearly impossible to zero in on the exact number of people at any given time. Nonetheless in a symbolic gesture the UN celebrated this achievement with a press conference held by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. There were also several coordinated festivals around the world celebrating the births of children on Monday in a sign of solidarity.
Danica May Camacho of Manila, Philippines was one such birth. She was born minutes before Monday but close enough to be bestowed the wonderful honor of being a ‘7 billionth baby’. Her celebration was joined with fanfare from news cameras, photographers, and well wishers but other concerns lingered in the delivery room. Danica May was born premature. At 5 pounds and 8 ounce, she joined the other 13 million babies worldwide that are born too soon every year. Obstetrician & Gynecologist know all too well that premature birth is the leading cause of newborn deaths in the world. Ironically, November 17th marks World Prematurity Day. So in just a few short weeks, March of Dimes and other organizations will participate in a robust international awareness campaign about Danica May’s plight.
There have been strides over the years to lower infant mortality but the averages are still too high. A 2011 report from the UN listed the worldwide infant mortality rate at 42 deaths for every 1,000 births. Luckily for Danica May, rates vary wildly and differ by country and region. The Philippines is well below this average with only 21 deaths per 1,000 births. However that is still 700% higher than countries like France, Germany, Japan, and Israel, which have some of the lowest rates in the world hovering around just 3 deaths per 1,000 live births.
And this is only half of the problem. About 40% of infant mortality can be attributed to premature births. The remaining 60% are caused by many other risk factors and socioeconomic conditions. Danica May has a 44% chance of growing up in poverty being born in the Philippines increasing the likelihood that she will have issues with access to food, shelter, education, clean water and healthcare. Higher income countries fair better but wide disparities within those countries still exist. Say Danica May were born in the United States for example. Her chances of growing up in poverty decrease in half to 22%. However, if she were Black or Hispanic, those chances only decrease by a quarter to about 35%. Understandably, money is a factor. The Philippines only spends 4% of its GDP on healthcare compared to the United States which spends closer to 17%. But more money does not always correlate to more quality. Every single country in the world with a lower infant mortality rate than the United States actually spends less money as a percentage of GDP on healthcare.
These issues point to a much larger concern about our planet and its readiness to handle 7 billion people; let alone more. We are on pace to celebrate the 8 billionth baby by 2025. Public policy and health professionals dare to wonder if the world can accommodate the needs of so many humans. On Monday, Nozipho Goqo gave birth in Johannesburg, South Africa to a child which joined Danica May in recognition from the UN as another ‘7 billionth baby’. She named her child, Gwakwanele, which in Zulu means “enough”. Goqu might be right.
Originally posted at NYU’s Health Policy Blog
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